Crisis Management – What can we learn from Deflategate?

The issue discussed at so many water coolers these days is whether or not Tom Brady actively knew about a small amount of air being removed from the footballs he threw during the 2014 playoffs.

Does this really matter?  No! 

The real issue is how it was handled.  Tom Brady — a perennial All-Pro player with endorsement deals and an amazing back story — really deflated himself. During the height of the issue, Tom made light of the reports attempted to downplay the significance. In fact, many Sunday morning football analysis shows brought in scientists to discuss the advantages it may have provided. Bill Nye was in heaven.

In my opinion, the story changed when during a news conference Tom stated that this was football and not Isis or something else — I paraphrase, but you get the point. That may be a standard response when talking with your colleagues, but not something to state on national television. His comments only ignited the issue.

When attempting to minimize the story, two approaches would have been helpful.

  • Humility — Had Tom responded by stating that the reports were disturbing and not in line with the “Patriot way,” the story may have ended there. It didn’t help that the Patriots won the Super Bowl, but that is not relevant to the story. The fact that he, his coach and the team owner publicly took a stance condemning the insinuations of cheating added fuel. Reporters know what to look for and the collective response of Tom and his advisors communicated, “We did it and we will do it again to win.”
  • Cooperation — When the story broke, the NFL had no alternative than to begin an investigation, which led to an overblown report. By not participating in the investigation and going on with his life, Tom Brady put a target on his back that was focused on by not only the public but the League leadership. This forced their hand and now we await a possible suspension. By supporting any investigation, you show you are a team player and supportive of the process. By not participating, you establish questionable doubt, which can backfire.

Overall, does Deflategate have any impact on society or me? No, but what it does provide is a great case study in mishandling the situation in a crisis. For Tom, it’s already affected his playing time in 2015 and could negatively impact his endorsements and his legacy.