Tanking Is Clean on Paper, But Can Feel So Gross in Practice

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

This is not a haughty, moralistic argument because, honestly, who cares that the Philadelphia Eagles played not to win a game the New York Giants desperately needed them to win in the NFL's 256th and final regular-season matchup of 2020?

Doug Pederson coaches his team and is responsible for its success and happiness, not the one of a division rival 90 minutes up I-95. If he and the other franchise brain trust wanted to throw Nate Sudfield out there on the off-chance he'd been bitten by a snake and gained magical quarterbacking powers somehow, that's their business. And it was objectively hilarious to hear Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth try to remain moored to reality without taking a sledgehammer to The Shield.

Giants fans can bitch and moan until their Twitter fingers fall off, but even the most lubricated know that the best way to make the playoffs is to win more than six of 16 football games. It doesn't make the situation any less ridiculous, but perhaps easier to stomach.

Sunday night's circus was both entertaining and instructive as it doubled as a public service announcement about the potential impact of tanking. This is your league. This is your league when teams are trying to actively lose. Watch me fry this egg.

To be crystal clear: if organizations want to tank, they are certainly within their rights to do that. But over time, we've lost sight of the clinical definition of the endeavor, which is just losing intentionally with better branding. It is something that does not speak to my sensibilities regarding competition and why I appreciate sports, yet realize mileage may vary.

Tanking has become glorified and thrust into place as the first remedy for bad teams. It works sometimes and only prolongs the irrelevance in other situations. You may not know that pesky little fact because it's so often unexamined — as so often is the case with vague, future optimism. Its consequences and unintended effects are rarely studied whereas the upside is feverishly explored.

We can't exist in this culture and then bristle when a playoff spot is overtly decided by a third party waving the white flag. The Face-Eating Leopard Party member cannot be shocked and righteously indignant when those leopards' hunger starts to negatively impact their favored chapter.

What the Eagles did was an affront to the true heartbeat of sports. It's okay if you don't agree. But never, under any circumstance, does a person who embraces tanking as a strategy have the standing to complain about it. This is what tanking looks like and it shapes playoff fields each and every year, just not as overtly. There cannot be a whole swath of teams trying to lose without cracking some eggs in another's basket.

Embracing the practice and evangelizing its merits means dealing with the occasional yoke-y mess.