You know the story: NFL star quarterback Tom Brady, the hero of the New England Patriots’ decade of success, was caught cheating. He knew of or ordered deflated footballs in the AFL Championship game in January.
Rather than come clean, accept responsibility and take his punishment — a four-game regular season suspension, pending an appeal — he stonewalled and disassembled. He appealed to his fans and his base and let his agent and family talk about how outraged everyone was.
Look around Camp Brady, if you plotted the outrage on a map, you’d have the rights to a loyal, supportive blue section of eastern New England, while the rest of the country is angry red.
Sure, we dislike the Patriots for their improbable success on a stupid call by Seattle in the last Super Bowl. But like the Yankees, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Tiger Woods and any other dominant, smart, aggressive sports franchise, we’re jealous of their success.
Nonetheless, Brady played this one like he couldn’t hold on to a wet football. He withheld evidence. If he is really as innocent as he claimed, show investigators your texts and emails. No? Then the hammer comes down.
Said team owner Robert Kraft: “Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league … Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.”
Well that would make sense — if Brady would stop withholding evidence.
And what’s all the more amazing for the NFL is the penalties against the team and Kraft. Two lost draft choices, including a first rounder that could have located the next Brady, and a $1 million fine.
What choice did the NFL have? It has to be as hard on its stars as it is on its felons.
The issue now, however, is Brady. He had a window last week when he could have apologized, gone proactive, admitted that he sought to gain an advantage he should not have had. Fans would understand. How much holding goes on that’s never called? How sticky are the gloves receivers wear? Everyone seeks an edge. It’s America.
But Americans have little use for liars, especially those — the emperor has no clothes — who continue to profess innocence and should about unfair accusations, when 99 percent of the world sees the facts as they are.
He is severely risking his reputation, his legacy and his entire image.
Pete Rose is still waiting for the Baseball Hall of Fame to call.
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.