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Tom Brady, Patriots send a poor message about sportsmanship

It’s just a game.

That said, the Patriots should do some soul-searching after Wednesday's report that all but accused team personnel and quarterback Tom Brady of cheating. Unfortunately, it's not the first such allegation, and the team was previously punished for spying on opponents. Even for those who couldn't care less about football, the Patriots are a local institution, and their actions are sending a poor message about sportsmanship.

The report, by lawyer Ted Wells, concluded that team personnel were letting air out of footballs, apparently to give the Patriots an advantage. The report exonerated top management, but said Brady likely knew, at least in general terms, what low-level employees were up to.

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It goes without saying that Brady's alleged misdeeds are the tiniest of misdemeanors next to the far more serious problems facing the NFL, like the mishandling of the Ray Rice domestic-violence case last year and the ongoing problem of head injuries.

Still, playing by the rules matters. Most young football players will never make the NFL, but they will, hopefully, learn life lessons about fairness. The Patriots are sending a different, win-at-any-cost message. Setting that example can have repercussions well beyond the football field, and it should stop.