Played like fools   

Updated: September 30, 2007, 12:25 PM ET

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So this is the way the game is played.

It's called communitarianism. In this case, it's something like synchronized criminology. Or something that the Corleones might do. Or someone with the ultimate political power.

Communitarianism is like a family. One that sticks together and makes even those not part of that family abide by the family laws. With communitarianism strange things happen and powerful people play dumb all of a sudden -- they know nothing, have no information, stop speaking or their sentences come out in codes and all answers are abrupt, they refuse to give direct answers to direct questions, they stonewall. In communitarianism objectivity is lost, the relationship between media and subject gets blurred, stories go untold, payoffs are subliminal, excuses become points of reason, evidence evaporates, everyone cooperates.

So when the news came in that "the NFL has received and destroyed all materials it requested from the New England Patriots concerning videotaping of opponents' sidelines," the public sign that the NFL was a true communitarian society became clearer. So unapologetic, so quietly blatant, so coded, so don't snitch.

Let the communitarianism begin!

It's all a memory. The important stories are Green Bay's 3-0 start, the Cowboys' statement against the Bears, the Chargers missing Marty Schottenheimer. Sometimes the greatest deception of a people comes from information that no longer exists. Where's the proof that this ever happened? What exactly did happen and to what degree if we have no proof of its existence? There was so little made of "videogate" that years from now, when looking back at the NFL's history, this moment in time will not resonate. Search for the magnitude of the story, you will find small items; search for evidence of a crime, you'll find nothing.

Outside of Gregg Easterbrook's TMQ column this week that was so precise on the subject, it's amazing how these events -- something that can be considered a national sports cover-up -- can happen in this day of public outcries of conspiracy and scandal and the media's lust to expose these stories. And virtually everyone is cool with it. The movie "Michael Clayton" has nothing on this.

No big deal, so what, no one got hurt, everyone does it, let's keep it quiet, let's keep doing stories on Brett Favre. Act like none of this happened. Like we've all been visited by the Men in Black. And because it is now impossible for Bernard Goldberg or any other investigative reporter to get concrete evidence of the extent of the Patriots' cheating, the country gets to sit back and act as if none of this ever happened. The rug this has been swept under was lying atop a slab of concrete where a hole to hell was being dug and the construction workers were just waiting for commissioner Roger Goodell's word to pour the cement. Story dead. Six feet under.

Now we know this is the way the game is played.

Last week, the league said: "The Patriots have fully cooperated and complied with the requirements of the commissioner's decision. All tapes, documents and other records relating to this matter were turned over to the league office and destroyed, and the Patriots have certified in writing that no copies or other records exist."

A cover story presented to the public as "no news," tucked away in the third paragraph on the "notes" section on page 11 in the sports section of USA Today. And that's how communitarianism is built, NFL-style. It keeps reporters from grilling the commissioner with questions, keeps the story buried in major sports publications, keeps reporters on other assignments. There will be no Ken Starr here.

"Communitarian thinking," as stated by Philip Patterson and Lee Wilkins, "allows ethical discussion to include values such as altruism and benevolence on an equal footing with questions of truth telling and loyalty."

Truth telling and loyalty. Cute. Truth is, there is no justification for destroying evidence of a situation that should have led to further investigation. There is no justification for the adolescent and apathetic one week the NFL spent investigating the Patriots' improprieties. And regardless of the intraprotective defense heard around the NFL, that "everyone does it," that excuse still holds Mary-Kate weight on the ethics of what we believed was the sport closest to being on the up-and-up with its fans. At least give credit to MLB and the NBA for facing their corrupt activities with some form of decorum and honesty.

Truth is, loyalty here is internal. The NFL cares little about the people who fill the seats of the $300 million stadiums or make the Super Bowl the most-watched annual event in America's pop culture. Truth is, our culture and the culture of the NFL are different. Although it seems the media is part of the NFL's communitarian network, NFL fans are not, even though we are sold on the NFL community.

As a presidential aide said in 2004 when explaining to journalists the power of the current administration, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do."

Sound familia?

Frank Rich might have it wrong: The NFL's latest "Patriot Act" may be the greatest story ever sold.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Scoop here.



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