(Warning: football talk contained within)
Let me begin by saying that I am a fan of the Patriots and of Tom Brady. I also (maybe wrongly) see an underinflated football as a stupid misdemeanor and not as the reason for their decade of success.
I think it has more to do with execution of plays like this:
That being said, I am fascinated by the outrage and the powerful traction that this scandal has created. The guilty until proven innocent tone of the stories written about this are amazing. The story didn’t just have legs, it had jet propulsion. It was like people were just waiting to jump on Belichick and Brady, ready to pile on as much as possible. The NFL seemed to be ready for this and has launched an official investigation right way. Clearly, they were ready to take this very seriously.
Just to be clear, the NFL has a fascinating and checkered history when it comes to conduct and behavior, as illustrated in the list of suspensions over the years.
In comparison to baseball, which treats every implication of performing enhancing drugs (peds) as though someone peed in the the Pope’s holy water, the NFL groups the peds use in the same category as all other illegal drugs.
“After Goodell stepped up as commissioner in 2006, over 70 players have been suspended by the league for their use of performance-enhancing drugs, among other banned substances.” – Compliments of Wikipedia
There is no gnashing of teeth when these players are suspended even when they are caught using peds. The purity of the game is not called into question, nor are the players called cheaters (like they are in baseball).
So, why all the consternation about these footballs.
My theory is that is has a little to do with the success of the organization over the years and that people are a little sick of the Patriots. It also has something to do with “Spygate” from 2007. (Read the link if you haven’t heard about it. Just having to reference it was annoying enough.) Even with all this, it doesn’t really explain the level of vitriol.
The takeaway message here is that when we make our communication based on disdain and superiority, when our body language and tone is based on our infallibility, and when our credibility is dependent on being infallible, then it is only a matter of time before something happens (no matter how minor) and we get destroyed for it.
If you want to avoid having to fight so hard for your credibility, here are a few ways you can do it.
1. Don’t cheat, cut corners, lie, manipulate or stretch the truth. Probably goes without saying really.
2. “There’s nothing to see here” doesn’t work when there is something to see there. Rumors and hurt feelings are one thing, evidence is another. The more seriously you take it, the quicker you can get out front of it.
3. Don’t assume that your reputation will carry you through. Reputations are like firewood. The longer you have had one, the easier it is to burn. (Just ask Joe Paterno or Bob Knight.) When you brush off accusations or reports it can come back to burn you even more.
4. No matter how indignant you may feel, you need to connect to the bigger issue in a calm and contrite way. You can be defiant while still being contrite (see Bill Clinton), but just defiant (assuming the facts are there) will make people want to tear you down. Clinton’s big success was to appear sympathetic to the public. He knew he would never change the minds of the Republicans.
On a personal note, even though I have learned to look at the way people communicate on many levels, I can’t help but have a visceral reaction to body language that is arrogant and dismissive. That kind of body language and tone lean heavily on making the listener feel shame about not only what they believe but who they are. Even if I want to believe that they are telling the truth, I have to work extra hard to listen beyond the tone. My advice is not to make it so hard on yourself. Eliminate the tone and negative body language, stop shaming your audience, and you might find that you have more credibility than you thought.
Just FYI, Belichick did another interview on Friday that had a better, clearer tone. He spent the time explaining the details and didn’t disregard the problem. It might help, but then again it might be too late to really change the public outrage. Check it out yourself and see how he did:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtzz98jXVW8