Sports Lessons: Deflated Football “Scandal”

By | January 23, 2015

[January 23, 2015] While watching the news on television I saw the press conference with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Being a football fan kept me on the channel while he fielded questions about the deflated football “scandal.” My wife asked me, “Who would think this an important issue?” Many do think it important but whether we think so or not, we can learn some sports lessons from it.

The press conference main points can be found in an ESPN article (see link for a good summary). While a few of us diehard sports’ fans will appreciate the question and answer session – I did – it does not get to any valuable lessons from which leaders can learn. However, here are some lessons and a few comments for leaders.

  • An issue bigger than whether the Patriot football deflated game footballs (and gave their team an advantage) is less important than the recent trend in demonizing football; in particular as the game having unacceptable physical and mental injury risks. There is a link here and the “scandal” is being magnified to support the risk-adverse argument. Leaders should be aware of this tactic and expect it to be used, often to great effect.
  • The “scandal” is not really a scandal. Yes, someone did deflate the game footballs and probably did it to gain an advantage. While a technical violation of the rules (air pressure below NFL standards), it matters little except for one thing; Americans hate cheaters. So this may more appropriately called cheating but hardly rises to the level of a real scandal where the outcome of the game rested on it. The final score: Patriots 45, Colts 7. Leaders should make their standards clear, ensure those standards are enforced, and not tolerate those who violate them. Of course, they need to use good judgment in their carrying this out.
  • Both the Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick (see link) and quarterback Brady made comments at press conferences this Thursday. They found out about the issue Monday. Why did they wait four days before going on the record? Leaders should act reasonably quickly to get the word out on what they know. More importantly, leaders need for everyone to understand that there are rules and standards and they do not tolerate rules’ violations nor do they tolerate those who do.

As leaders we need to be thinking about how such events can affect our organization and have plans on how to address it. This means having contacts already established with the media. It means having established a culture that enforces standards. This is not done by being perceived as looking the other way on infractions. It is done by having an aggressive approach to punish those who violate the rules.

Anything short of this is not leadership. As for the deflated football scandal … get over it.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.