Stop me if you’ve heard this.
A team cheats. Both leading up to and then actually during the biggest contest of the year, they cheat.
They deny that they’re cheating, of course, and mock their accusers. Dozens of people who work for the team know about the cheating, but they’ve all got their own little vested interest in making sure that it goes on, their own little slice of the pie. And so it does go on. And on and on. Right up through the very end.
And — slowly, painfully, through leaks and official channels — it comes to light that they did, in fact, cheat. They broke the rules. Blatantly! Obviously! It wasn’t even clever. Mostly, they got away with it because they did it out in the open and nobody thought they could possibly be that dumb.
And now they’re defiant. They claim that their cheating was inconsequential, that it wasn’t even really cheating, and the fact that people keep bringing it up means that they’re the victims, that they’re the injured party. Poor them; everybody has always had it out for them; the people hurling accusations are the real cheaters.
Investigations are ordered and conducted. But the system that was designed to protect the integrity of the institution rolls over, just wishing it would all go away. Hundreds of thousands — millions! — of fans, decked out in team colors and chanting team slogans, turn surly, defensive, nasty. They’ll ignore any fact that doesn’t fit their narrative, that might cause them to question the result. Who cares how they won? All that matters is that they won, that they have the prize. Suck it, losers!
The investigation concludes, and… nothing happens. Maybe one or two people somewhere in the organization are punished, maybe not. The great mass of cheats and sneaks and liars slip away, unscathed and unpunished. The fans and even the members of team start mocking again, this time emboldened by a sense of invincibility. The lies become worse — both more egregious and stupider. You are told not to trust your own eyes, your own common sense.
And everybody who could have done anything about it — the team, the rule makers and officiants who ostensibly protect the system, the vast number of people who knew exactly what was going on, the slavering fans — gives not one good goddamn. Because it’s all about winning, and flying the flag. Lost amid the cheers, plowed under by the relentless march to victory, is the right thing, the important thing, the good of the game. What does it mean for the past and for the future and for the system that they all claim to love, hands over hearts?
Who gives a shit? They won.
And that’s the ballgame.