When The Washington Post compares you to the worst cheaters across the millennia, going back to Nero, you’ve got a bigger problem than smaller balls.
Quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick held separate news conferences yesterday in an effort to put “deflategate” behind them. They only succeeded in stirring up dozens of sharks drawn by blood in the water. Among them, former Super Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell said outright on ESPN Brady was lying.
The Patriots’ reputation — and past precedent of using every possible advantage to win — for going right up to, and sometimes crossing, the cheating line is not helping their reputation. Nor are they finding any sympathy.
They’re also not being helped by the NFL dragging its feet on the allegations that Brady and the Pats underinflated footballs to gain an advantage over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game in Foxborough last Sunday.
The damage a crisis causes is related to its longevity as much as the charges and content.
Reports now circulating indicate the NFL may not conclude anything about this mess until after the Super Bowl. Brady said no one from the league talked to him yet. That may be intentional, twisting the knife a bit for the always-aggressive Pats. But that will also ensure that deflategate will have inflated importance in what is already a media circus the week before the Super Bowl.
But let’s examine another aspect of this. What if, if, Brady and Belichick are lying?
What if one of them told an equipment manager to fix the team’s footballs just so? What if, in fact, they’d been doing this all season, or for years, and no one noticed?
The crime is not as significant as the cover up.
If they both stood up yesterday — interestingly at separate news conferences — and lied to America, they will open the door to joining the American Athletes Hall of Shame, which already enshrined Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez and others who cheated and lied.
Belichick’s and Brady’s roads to the Football Hall of Fame — and their rightful claims to being the best coach and the best quarterback in NFL history — suddenly grow bumpy and less direct. One cannot fathom that they would lie, but a lot of football insiders are saying of course they knew.
Are they parsing the truth? Did they honestly not know the balls were specifically underinflated for the Colts game because they were always underinflated?
And what does this say about the win-at-any-costs mentality of the Patriots, and for that matter, large elements of American society who think the whole thing is folly?
Have we as a society gone so far down the cheating road that nothing surprises us, and few pounds of air pressure is seen as so much hot air?
One thing is now clear: The Pats’ efforts to make this go away failed. The story was first on NBC News last night and is on A1 of today’s Washington Post.
If the NFL wanted this to go away, it could have completed its investigation by now. Not doing so sends the media a message that there is something of substance there, and until that’s public, the sports media will continue, in its biggest week, to rant about it.
Super Bowl? What Super Bowl?
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.