Deflategate and friends

I wish that not caring about American football would have protected me from exposure to a lot of hot air about Deflategate, but I live in the Boston area, and I turned on the radio several times over the last week, so I’ve been surrounded. I don’t have a TV, so at least I was spared shots of the offending (offended?) footballs or sequences involving the potential crime scenes.

Each time DeflateGate is referenced, I ask myself, “are we really talking about this? Really?” It just isn’t hard to think of things that better deserve my attention. It’s actually hard to come up with something that deserves my attention less than how full the footballs were for one of last Sunday’s games. But it seems that how deserving a topic is doesn’t track with how likely we are to pay attention.

There are very many things that deserve our thought that aren’t getting it, and I’ll bet there are a host of reasons for that. Why, though, do we hanker after scandal?

Just as scientists theorize about the survival advantages conferred on us by our preference for sweet things, there’s probably an evolutionary argument to be made for why we tend to perk up at the prospect of something scandalous, though I’m not sure what it would be. Maybe it’s important to monitor how soon the mighty will be falling, so we can try to stay out of the way?


Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, 1924-2015

I wonder if there’s some relationship between the amount of attention a news item gets and the effort needed to mount a substantive response. In addition to the drama of the footballs, last week saw the death of the king of Saudi Arabia and the resignation of Yemen’s president amid a Houthi rebel takeover of that country. Both of these things happened in a volatile region of the world where future events are difficult to predict. I’ve read a little about the recent history of Saudi Arabia and its royal family, but I know next to nothing about Yemen. In comparison, forming an opinion about Deflategate seems like the path of least resistance.

Yet resist I will. Instead, I’m looking for some history. Deflategate has joined a long and often sordid list of -gates, going all the way back to the original scandal of Watergate. The suffix is a favorite of journalists and pundits, and gets applied to kerfuffles large and small.

Koreagate, involving that country’s influence-peddling in the US Congress, is said to have been the first post-Watergate scandal to receive the suffix, but since that spin-off in 1976, the movement has been going strong. Some you may be familiar with, especially if you’ve got a good memory and/or high media tolerance: there were issues of national security or policy like Irangate 300px-Contra_commandas_1987(the Reagan administration selling arms to Iran and using proceeds to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua), and those involving the CIA, like Plamegate (wherein the name of agent Valerie Plame was allegedly leaked by Scooter Libby in retaliation for her husband’s criticism of President Bush’s justification for invading Iraq).


Image from

In my review I found -gates involving not only politics but sports, entertainment, technology and academia, too many to count. After a while I decided I’d skip the majority, and just gather up a few whose names caught my attention. Doesn’t Billygate have a ring to it? Reminds me of the three billy goats gruff. How about Buttongate? I wish it were about buttons, but it’s about a British Formula 1 driver named Jenson Button. Fajitagate? Sadly, off-duty San Francisco police officers, an assault, and a misunderstanding about a bag of steak fajitas.


What about Pastagate? It centered around the government of Quebec’s censuring an Italian restaurant for not using the French equivalents of words like “bottiglia”, “calamari” and “pasta.” When they say they want everyone speaking French, they mean it.

Before there was Pastagate, there was Pastygate, regarding UK taxation of hot snacks, and conservative ministers allegedly out of touch with the way ordinary Brits eat. The UK also brought us Bloodgate–Rugby, fake blood, and a manufactured injury.

I’ve limited the links for this post, not wanting to get you too embroiled, but if you feel you must, you can find more than you ever wanted to know here.

We finish with an embarrassment involving heated arguments, disputed allegations, cover-ups, resignations, revelations, and jail time. It sounds like it could be any one of dozens or scandals, doesn’t it? In fact, our final entry is unique: this one actually involves a gate. Gategate, it’s sometimes called. Somebody wanted the gate opened, somebody else refused, somebody called somebody else uncomplimentary names. But we won’t dwell on that. After all, we wouldn’t want to miss an urgent update from the Patriots’ press office….



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