“Deflate-gate” and over-inflated outrage

January 29, 2015

Slate magazine hailed 2014 as “The Year of Outrage.” It appears that Americans are determined to continue the trend into 2015. Since the morning of January 19, the national media has been hijacked by a controversy nicknamed “Deflate-gate” on social media. By the amount of coverage the controversy has received, you would think deflate-gate was a legitimate national crisis. The story has been covered by every media outlet from NPR to TMZ and even reached the culturally iconic status of being parodied on Saturday Night Live.

What is deflate-gate? On January 18, the New England Patriots trounced the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in an NFL playoff game to secure a spot in the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots are being accused of slightly deflating the footballs that were used by them in the first half of the game. Doing so on a cold, wet night might have provided Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback, a slight advantage in gripping the football and his receivers a slight advantage in catching them. Of course, it may have also provided D’Qwell Jackson of the Colts a slight advantage in securing an interception against Brady in the second quarter of the game. It is also true that a slightly under-inflated football will decelerate a bit faster, which would be problematic on longer throws.

Rule 2 of the NFL rulebook provides the following guidelines for game day footballs:

The ball shall be made up of an inflated (12 ½ to 13 ½ pounds) urethane bladder enclosed in a pebble grained, leather case (natural tan color) without corrugations of any kind.

The Referee shall be the sole judge as to whether all balls offered for play comply with these specifications. A pump is to be furnished by the home club, and the balls shall remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game.

Each team will make 12 primary balls available for testing by the Referee two hours and 15 minutes prior to the starting time of the game to meet League requirements. The home team will also make 12 backup balls available for testing in all stadiums. In addition, the visitors, at their discretion, may bring 12 backup balls to be tested by the Referee for games held in outdoor stadiums.

In the event a home team ball does not conform to specifications, or its supply is exhausted, the Referee shall secure a proper ball from the visitors and, failing that, use the best available ball.

A quarterback’s preferences

Tom Brady has said in the past that he prefers footballs on the lower side of the inflation specifications. That is a fact of which clubhouse personnel who handle the footballs for the Patriots are no doubt acutely aware. It is also evident by the NFL procedural guidelines that the league wants the quarterbacks to play with footballs they are comfortable with. If the NFL was not interested in accommodating the quarterbacks, they could ensure that there is never a deflate-gate controversy again simply by having the referees bring brand new footballs to the game and have both teams use them without ever handling them prior to the game. NFL employed ball boys and referees could exclusively handle the balls during the game.

Eric Kester, a former ball boy for the Chicago Bears recently explained that factory fresh footballs are delivered to the teams several days before the game and the quarterbacks attempt to customize the ball to their liking. He explains:

This involves scrubbing them with stiff horsehair brushes to rub off the leather’s slippery silicone sheen and occasionally inflating or deflating the balls a very small amount, which I believe is legal to a degree. Quarterbacks are very particular about the way the ball feels in their hand, and we worked meticulously to match their particular preferences. (NBC News)

The NFL’s hypocrisy

Kester also explains that about two hours before kickoff, the balls are taken to the referees’ locker room for inspection. In his experience, this usually amounted to the referees squeezing them and examining the laces. According to Kester, though the referees had a pump in the locker room they rarely used it and he never saw a ball rejected. The NFL procedure is obviously accommodating to quarterbacks. The NFL fine for tampering with the footballs is $25,000. That is an insignificant amount by NFL financial standards and seems to reflect that they do not believe that it is an issue that challenges the competitive integrity of the game.

If there is any outrage to be offered in this situation, it should be properly directed at the NFL for hypocrisy. A few years ago, Richard Land, then president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said those addressing the immigration controversy in America need to realize, “The reality has been that too often, those who desire to enter our country illegally have encountered two apparently contradictory signs at our border: one saying ‘No Trespassing’ and the other saying ‘Help Wanted.’” The NFL is procedurally permissive about the preparation of the footballs and then adopts a strict tone for the sake of public relations when something becomes controversial.

It is a shame that under-inflated footballs have been the lead story when the actual football games have been simply astounding. Presumably the under-inflated balls were used only in the first half of the Patriots game against the Colts and not the second. So how did Brady do with properly inflated footballs? In the second half he was 12 for 14, for 131 yards, two touchdowns and the Patriots outscored Indianapolis 28-0. As the Colts’ tight end Dwayne Allen tweeted, “They could have played with soap for balls and beat us. Simply the better team.” In the other NFL playoff game, Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, engineered one of the most improbable comebacks in NFL history. After throwing four interceptions, Wilson and the Seahawks erased a 16-0 deficit to stun the Green Bay Packers. Even so, the dominant conversation surrounding the NFL playoffs heading to the Super Bowl is about the PSI of footballs.

America’s outrage culture

This is merely one small example of the unhealthy, but pervasive, perpetual outrage culture in America. We seem to be losing the ability to discuss anything with a sense of proper proportion. Too often in sports, politics, culture, and in everything else, we simply pick a side and defend it without question, and we vilify the other side without question. Professional wrestling used to have the market cornered on an over-exaggerated portrayal of heroes and villains with manufactured emotion and outrage, but it seems like every topic in America now sounds something akin to an episode of WrestleMania. Subtlety, nuance, and proportion are always labeled compromise in this outrage climate.

Since 2001, the New England Patriots have qualified for postseason play twelve times, reached the Super Bowl game six times, and they have won it three times. In the uber-competitive world of the NFL, with paper-thin margins between winning and losing, their success is a dynastic consistency. The media-awkward, evil football-genius persona of Bill Belichick and the golden-boy perfection of Tom Brady make them easy villains for non-Patriot fans. Nevertheless, slightly under-inflated footballs have not been the key to their success, and it is silly to suggest otherwise. If the Patriots knowingly under-inflated eleven footballs, then they should be penalized accordingly, but that should be the end of the story. There will not be a Deflate-gate movie in the future because this is a manufactured crisis not a real one.

I wish I could argue that Christians in America have been immune to the perpetual outrage culture, but we have not. I once confronted a Christian about passing around an obviously bogus article and photo-shopped picture of president Obama on social media only to have him shrug it off as no big deal because the president was so obviously wrong on vital social issues. In his mind his outrage condoned his actions. He was totally blind to the tragic irony that he was arguing truth is irrelevant when it came time to defend the truth. When we go down that road, we no longer have truth—just sides. The mission of Christ calls us to truth and proportion. Thus, James admonishes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24