Somewhere, I'm sure, there's a college course being taught on public relations and I'm guessing they have a unit or a chapter on personal crisis management, and if they do, I'm hoping that the professor is feverishly adding New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's handling of the Deflate-Gate scandal as the quintessential example of how not to handle a minor infraction of which one is obviously guilty.
I'm not even talking about Brady's perceived lack of cooperation with Ted Wells's investigation into the allegations that Brady was the driving force behind repeated deflations of official in-game footballs to below NFL standard PSI measurements, accusations for which the report found Brady's guilt to be "more probable than not," whatever that means. I'm talking about a form of contrition and Brady's somehow turning off the smug-o-meter in public appearances after the report is released.
On Monday afternoon, the NFL announced that Brady would be suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season for his role in the deflation of footballs in January's AFC Title Game, a game the Patriots won 45-7 over the Indianapolis Colts. Additionally, the Patriots will be docked their 2016 first-round pick and 2017 fourth-round pick in those NFL Drafts, and will pay a fine of $1 million to the league.
When asked about the wide-ranging organizational impact of the punishment, NFL Executive VP of Football Operations Troy Vincent indicated that the franchise's history of cheating, specifically "Spygate," affected the decision, this despite the Wells Report specifically exonerating head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft of any wrongdoing with respect to deflating footballs. In very poignant fashion, each of the three faces of the organization — quarterback, head coach and owner — got his own punishment in the currency most important to him. Brady in games, Belichick in draft picks and Kraft in money.
So back to Tom Brady butchering this thing seven ways to Sunday (well, four Sundays, at least) — how could this have all been avoided? Quite simply, if Tom Brady had just taken the Andy Pettitte approach, I'm fairly certain the worst thing we're talking about is his missing the season opener, if that. You remember Pettitte, and his response to his inclusion in the Mitchell Report, which contained accusations that he had used PEDs as a member of the New York Yankees. When pressed about it, he admitted he'd done it, gave a noble reason for it ("I was injured and wanted to get back on the field for my teammates") and promised never to do it again. End of story, and Pettitte is now hailed as the shining example of how to apologize for cheating.
Tom Brady could have taken a similar approach, but instead he nervously denied any involvement in this scheme back in January, then refused to fully cooperate with the league in the investigation (even when they reportedly were going to make accommodations on some of the electronic discovery), and then once the Wells Report came out, he sat smugly on a stage at a public appearance with a shit-eating grin, dismissing the findings as if everyone were stupid. (It didn't help that he was on that stage with Jim Gray, whose mere presence makes America want to punch somebody in the face.)
If Tom Brady had just come out on that January afternoon and said, "Yeah, I had our equipment guys adjust the footballs to my liking, I didn't think it was a big deal, to be honest. We'd played some games earlier this season where the balls were rock-hard, and I, like every other quarterback in the league, am pretty picky about the football and how it feels in my hand. I know I'm not the only one who is pretty hands-on with this process, but I take full responsibility. Obviously, knowing that the league takes this very seriously, I'll make sure that whatever we do is within the league's parameters going forward."
Boom. Answer a few questions, apologize a couple more times, pay the fine and go play football. No legacy stained, the topic is virtually diffused and everyone can move on. Instead, Brady gets up there and lies (and not even that well), and now all of a sudden, we get a season opener with Jimmy Garoppolo starting at quarterback this fall, not to mention the additional punishment to the team in the form of draft picks that likely would've been prevented.
Brady's camp has already said that they will appeal the punishment, and rightfully so. For as dishonest and smug as Brady has come across throughout this process, the Wells Report itself and the process behind generating it are pretty flawed, which should be no surprise considering they are the brainchildren of Roger Goodell, who would probably ground his grandchild for three years for a glass of spilled milk and give a serial killer 20 hours of community service if one let him.
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I mean, the league knew about the Patriots' penchant for messing with footballs, and still allowed the AFC Title Game to be played for a half with deflated footballs! How game-changing could deflating balls really be, then?
Goodell is an empty suit to the nth degree, and that's what makes Brady's handling of all this so frustrating. The Indianapolis Colts pushed Tom Brady in front of the bus, but he could've easily moved out of the way. Instead, in some desperate attempt to come out 100 percent clean, he gave the bus the middle finger and pulled his whole team in front of it with him.
For a guy who's managed some of the biggest wins in league history, Brady completely mismanaged a pretty simple situation. And now a bunch of people — his franchise, his teammates, his fans and a couple of low-level equipment guys — are going to pay the price.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.