Take It To The Limit? A Crisis Lesson From DeflateGate

“Take It To The Limit” was a great song by The Eagles. That song came to mind this past week as I was pondering how the New England Patriots were handling the DeflateGate scandal. At the heart of this crisis is the mystery surrounding eleven deflated footballs used by the Patriots in their playoff game against the Colts.

Fumbling On The First Play

During coach Bill Belichick’s first press conference, he quickly passed the ball to quarterback, Tom Brady. In turn, Brady scrambled and made his way through an awkward press conference. Looking uncomfortable, his main message was, “I did not alter the balls in any way.” I must say, I flashed back to former President Bill Clinton’s press statement when he said, “I did not have sex with that woman.” This is why we coach our clients to avoid making statements in the negative, or the “problem frame.” These statements are more memorable and make great headlines for the wrong reasons. Saturday Night Live thrives on those statements.

Mixed Signals From “The DeNye Guy”

Belichick felt compelled to hold yet another news conference this past weekend, keeping the story at the top of the weekend news cycle. In just two days, he went from, “I don’t have anything to do with the balls,” to giving a detailed scientific explanation that the deflated balls were the result of climatic conditions and ball preparation. However, Bill Nye, The Science Guy, quickly shot down that theory on ABC’s Good Morning America, saying Belichick’s claims cannot be supported by science. The media headlines became “Belichick, The DeNye Guy.” He should have never gone in front of reporters a second time without having all the facts. You simply do not speculate until the investigation is complete. It was as if Belichick was throwing spaghetti on the ceiling to see if something would stick, hoping the media attention might go away. He even ended his press conference with, “This is the end of this subject for me for a long time.” If only it were that simple.

It was as if Belichick was throwing spaghetti

on the ceiling to see if something would stick,

hoping the media attention might go away.

Mounting Losses

This is not the Patriots first time to the crisis dance. Remember SpyGate? In 2007 Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 when they were caught spying on New York Jets coaches’ signals. Hall of Fame coach Don Shula has taken to calling the Patriots’ leader “Beli-cheat”, and that moniker has been spreading across social media channels. Other famous NFL players are also piling on. Former Cowboys quarterback, Troy Aiken, says the Patriots should be punished like the New Orleans Saints. The Saints coach was suspended for the entire 2012 season after the league uncovered a bounty system for players with big hits on opposing players.

Hall of Fame coach Don Shula has taken to

calling the Patriots’ leader “Beli-cheat”, and

that moniker has been spreading across

social media channels.

The Playing Field

When clients call us, one of the first things we do is evaluate allthe key perspectives involved in the crisis. You must figure out which perspective will matter in the long run. Sometimes, that perspective is internal and other times, external. Think about the NFL’s perspective. This year the NFL has been shaken by concussions, domestic abuse, child abuse, and even a player charged with murder. Commissioner Roger Goodell is under the microscope to restore trust and integrity. The media are already looking at the cozy relationship between Goodell and Patriots owner, Robert Kraft. If the Patriots do win the Super Bowl, what will the headlines say? Will it be a win for the NFL?

You must figure out which perspective will

matter in the long run. Sometimes, that

perspective is internal and other times,

external.

Guard That Integrity

Think about Belichick’s perspective. His legacy is at stake. SpyGate, DeflateGate and numerous other accusations are taking a toll on his image. He is the Patriots’ leader and under his leadership it appears several bad operational decisions have been made in order to win. Under Belichick’s leadership the Patriots have pushed the rules to moral extremes in order to win one more game, one more year. The best crisis communication strategies are no match for a history of bad operational decisions. Think Enron, BP and a list of others. In our work with companies around the country, we witness some cultures suffering from bad operational decisions. That is why we always say, “Guard your integrity daily.” Unfortunately, some leaders breed cultures that “Take It To The Limit” too many times.

 

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