When the story first broke that the NFL’s New England Patriots could have been tampering with the pressures of the footballs they used in the AFC Championship game, the general reaction was pretty much universal: They were guilty.
Such is the reputation the football dynasty had earned over the years for either taking shortcuts with the rules or at least playing them fast and loose. However this was the AFC championship game that propelled them into the Super Bowl, a game which they eventually, (amazingly really), won.
During the Super Bowl preamble quarterback, and soon to be game MVP, Tom Brady denied any involvement or even knowledge of ‘DeflateGate’, saying, “I didn’t alter the ball in any way.”
Today, that is no longer in doubt. He knew about it, and was involved in it.
“Based on the evidence developed in connection with the investigation and summarized in this Report, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the NFL Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate attempt to circumvent those rules,” the report, released Wednesday, said.
As a result the Patriots have, while not fully accepting responsibility, caved to the investigation and spoke out through a statement from team owner Robert Kraft – who originally insisted the NFL should apologize when the Patriots were found to have done nothing wrong:
“Knowing that there is no real recourse available, fighting the league and extending this debate would prove to be futile. We understand and greatly respect the responsibility of being one of 32 in this league and, on that basis, we will accept the findings of the report and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league.”
Crisis Management Poorly Handled
When the news first broke all the Patriots did was deny, deny, deny. They refused to even entertain that they could be guilty of anything. They ridiculed the media from the podium labelling them as “doubters” and “haters.”
That flat out denial only fed the media’s flames of suspicion leading the league to initiate their own investigation; the results of which released today will be devastating to the team and their star player’s reputations forever.
In other words, it went from bad… to worst case scenario.
What the Patriots should have done was to act quickly and be honest. They should have initiated their own thorough and independent investigation and once they found out the truth, or even some suspicions that something was up, been open about it. They should have owned the issue, been completely transparent during the process and accepted all responsibility.
The public perception of being strong and sincere gets you past a crisis much faster than obfuscation and denial. Now the New England Patriots are the poster boys of disastrous crisis management – amongst other things.
All organizations can learn from their lesson. No company is perfect. No company can avoid issues with their products or services. Yet, every company can manage their problems in a professional manner. When faced with a crisis and in doubt of what to do, perhaps the best question they should ask themselves is, “What would the Patriots do?”
And then do the exact opposite.