The “Deflategate” report is out, and at an inflated 243 pages — plus footnotes — finds New England Patriots quarterback and three-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady lied about his involvement and hid evidence that might have incriminated him even more.
Is this a crisis? No. This is football. Police officers shooting to death unarmed black men is a crisis. The Syrian civil war is a crisis. ISIS is a crisis. Global warming is a crisis.
This is a hit to Brady’s aww-shucks persona, his up-by-the-bootstraps success story and his fairy tale life with a mega-model wife and homes that look like they belong in Victorian England. Not to mention his exquisite success throwing footballs, in- or de-flated.
The report concludes Tom Brady probably cheated by using under-inflated footballs, breaking NFL rules and gaining an unfair advantage in the AFC Championship game last January, prior to winning the Super Bowl.
Is this Mark McGwire cheating? Lance Armstrong cheating? No. And compared to what is perceived as rampant use of performance enhancing drugs by NFL players, the ongoing crisis of player domestic abuse and the overall criminality of some players, this isn’t even the league’s biggest issue.
But it might be for Brady. As Juliet Macur writes in The New York Times:
What we know for certain is that the investigators’ report taints his résumé, which might be hard for some fans to believe.
Sorry, folks. So much for the feel-good story of a player drafted in the sixth round out of Michigan who turned out to be a star and seemingly could do no wrong. After Wednesday’s news, that story line has taken a sharp turn. It’s turned depressing, actually.
Brady’s more-probable-than-not involvement in deflating those footballs means that he had lost faith in himself as an athlete and in his ability to accomplish amazing feats on the strength of his talent alone. It shows that he — the Patriots’ trusty No. 12 — has been doubting himself.
The saddest part of all this is that this scandal will diminish his legacy, which is a pity. Could Brady have thrown all of those touchdown passes in the playoffs with fully inflated footballs? It’s more probable than not.
What should Brady do? Immediately? What he should do is not have surrogates — owner Robert Kraft and Brady’s agent Don Yee — disparage the report, the distinguished team the NFL hired to do it and try to blame everyone but the team and Brady.
What he should do is call a news conference, admit he was aware the balls were deflated, admit, if it’s true, that he asked for that, and take his likely three- or four-game suspension with grace and humility. Come clean, accept responsibility and take the hit.
Don’t duck, or hide behind semantics or dice facts, as he did prior to the Super Bowl.
This is not a felony. Everyone at every level in every sport has tried to gain an advantage over an opponent by bending rules. It’s human nature. We argue calls at first base when we know the runner was out. We need cameras to separate fact from fiction about a receiver catching the football before it hits the ground. We fight with the chair umpire about a tennis ball being in or out, to our advantage; or at least we did until computer-aided cameras settled those issues. Offside in soccer is still a mystery and a fertile place to gain unfair advantage.
The quickest way to restore and maintain Brady’s reputation is to accept responsibility, admit the wrongdoing, pledge to never do it again, and move on.
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 eight 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.