“Are you serious? I think it’s just going to be money, a fine,” said Iron Mountain’s Nancy Twombly on May 7, as we discussed the impending punishment New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady might face after the results of an extensive investigation into “Deflategate” were released.
“I don’t think so,” I said to Nancy, a Pats fan, as we chatted during the HIT Marketing Conference in Las Vegas last week, where I participated in a press panel discussion. “They’ve got to suspend him, and it can’t be for one or two games. It’s got to be for at least half a season. It’s sad to say, but he cheated. The report says that Brady didn’t cooperate with the investigation, wouldn’t turn over his texts or phone records, and that his statements of knowing nothing about the deflation of the footballs (and not knowing the actual person who did the dirty work) were hard to swallow. That’s a nice way of saying he lied.”
“We found [Brady’s] claims not plausible and contradicted by other evidence,” the report said.
Halfway through the conversation, Emma Ludwin from KNB Communications joined us. As I reiterated my opinion, she simply shook her head in shocked disbelief of my prediction. Emma has Patriots season tickets, and the vision of one without Tom is, well, akin to what most of us have to deal with. (I’m in better shape as a Giants fan with Eli Manning, and we’re going to dominate in September.)
But though a Giants fan, I’m also a football fan, a lover of the game. And when I reflect on why I love the NFL, it’s because of the level playing field (so to speak) that the owners created, specifically the fact that the big market teams who could have spent much more money on players than small market ones — ultimately dominating the league — agreed to a salary cap for all. They were prescient enough to realize that the strength of the league was what mattered, not of any one team. This, to me, is the main reason the NFL has such a better setup than Major League Baseball, where the Yankees and other such teams significantly outspend rivals, then nonchalantly absorb any penalties intended to dissuade them.
So football, as practiced by the NFL, is a beautiful thing because of the level playing field, but that goes out the window when somebody cheats, as the Patriots have been found guilty of doing before (see Spygate). Now we have the deflation of footballs, which sounds almost too silly to care about, but when you think about the fact that, to accomplish this, a Patriots’ employee sneaked off into the bathroom before the AFC championship to let air out of the balls, the sleaziness of it hits home.
For my part, I cannot believe how winning this way gives one the same satisfaction of really winning, but I suppose the absolute obsession with victory, seemingly at all costs, came to override every other consideration in Patriots land. And to me, these things always come from the top. All the way to Robert Kraft? Maybe, but certainly to Bill Belichick.
You see, and you know, that leaders create an environment in which the troops have a general idea of what is permissible and what is not. They come to know the value judgments of the leader — what he deems important and what he doesn’t. Once folks have worked together long enough, they simply know the answer to a question, whether they agree with it or not.
Nancy Wilcox hits me all the time with, “I know the answer to this is no, but I just have to ask you anyway.” Of course, no salesperson can turn down a “well how about this” inquiry from a potential customer without some bucking up.
But the funny thing is that she knows it’s a ‘no,’ just like Bridget Anne Kelly knew Chris Christie would say yes if asked about hitting Fort Lee with a little traffic to show the town’s mayor (who didn’t support Christie in his reelection efforts) a thing or two.
I create an environment, a culture, with morals and values, as did Christie, as did Belichick, as do you. Done well, there is huge benefit to this — it means your troops will propagate your values without having to check back on every little thing. Done wrong, it means your troops will propagate your values without having to check back on every little thing. You set the tone, and they follow. If you want to pretend the results have nothing to do with you — that you “never asked them to do it” — go ahead and kid yourself. It might keep Christie out of jail, but it won’t give him back the chance to be president.
And it looks like it’s kept Kraft and Belichick out of suspension (not out of fines or losing draft picks), but it doesn’t mean it will win them back the respect they’ve squandered in their all-consuming quest to dominate. On Monday, Brady was suspended for the first four games of the coming 2015 season. Even an admission of guilt and apology at this point — which I doubt is in the offing —won’t win them back my respect, and they surely had a ton of it.