Drop the Appeal and Close the Book on Deflategate
Dear Roger Goodell:
It probably goes against your nature, but the best advice anyone can give you following your lopsided defeat in the Deflategate saga comes from a Disney princess: Let it go!
Some might use the title of the animated musical Frozen to describe your robotic personality, but I’m trying to relate to you on a different level: it’s a cartoon, and you’ve turned into nothing short of a caricature of yourself. Your ego has been as hard-charging and indestructible as an armored tank, but when Sports Illustrated put you on the cover of its Game of Thrones-inspired Power issue in 2013, no one thought you had it in you to turn so medieval.
Your decision to appeal Judge Richard Berman’s ruling that vacated Tom Brady’s suspension is another PR disaster in the making, and you’re about to squander what little public trust you have left after going 0-for-your-last-5: Bountygate, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and the Golden Boy.
Consistency is a hallmark of leadership, and the winds at the Meadowlands are easier to predict than your arbitrary and capricious ways. Unless you’re a replacement referee, you can’t make up the rules as you go along.
It takes a special breed of arrogance to make the Patriots look like sympathetic figures, and congratulations, you haven’t swung and missed here. Everyone loved Brady’s underdog story until the sixth-round pick wasn’t an underdog anymore. He’s a four-time Super Bowl champion who married one of the world’s most beautiful women. So, yeah, losing to the guy who has it all really hurts. Just ask the Rams, Panthers, Eagles and Seahawks what it’s like to see his dimpled-chin reflected in the Lombardi Trophy, or the rest of the AFC East how it’s felt to watch New England win the division 12 of the past 14 years. People love to hate the Patriots, but your draconian punishment had most pulling for the Goliath from Foxborough.
Just remember that old adage about pride preceding the fall. Instead of appealing the court’s reasoned decision and trying to convince the world that your iron fist carries more weight than a judge’s gavel, you should put an end to the litigious circus that has come to define your tenure as commissioner. The raucous boos that resonate when you step to the podium at the NFL draft? I’m not sure who has your ear these days, but someone should tell you they’re not all aggrieved zealots with New England zip codes.
You don’t have a Tom Brady problem or a Patriots problem or a PSI problem, Roger. You have an overarching credibility problem, and Judge Berman saw right through you when he smacked you down for dispensing “your own brand of industrial justice.” You’ve long thought of yourself as judge, jury and executioner, but heed this wake-up call. Consistency is a hallmark of leadership, and the winds at the Meadowlands are easier to predict than your arbitrary and capricious ways. Unless you’re a replacement referee, you can’t make up the rules as you go along.
Even in a mind-boggling system that allows you to arbitrate your own rulings, fairness should be the guiding principle. If you don’t understand why that’s important, call Dennis Rodman and see if he can get you into North Korea. (It could be the next phase of NFL global domination!) Trying to sell Ted Wells’ investigation as “independent” was a hapless smokescreen, and escalating Brady’s alleged culpability from “generally aware” to saying he “knew about, approved of, consented to, and provided inducements and rewards in support of a scheme” might be more stunning than a concussion. You never proved it.
By not working out a deal, it became less about how much air was in those footballs than how much you wanted to puff out your chest. Winning on appeal won’t restore order in anyone’s mind except your own. Judge Berman already put a huge dent in the power you purport to wield, and the players’ association is salivating. How can anyone respect your decisions going forward?
According to a study by the global PR firm Weber Shandwick, “CEO reputation is a fundamental driver of corporate reputation.” The team owners who employ you have long appreciated your willingness to stand in the line of fire, but as the NFL’s de facto CEO, you’re rapidly becoming a stand-in for the league. You can absorb only so much negativity before becoming radioactive yourself. Falcons owner Arthur Blank, for one, has publicly expressed doubts about your leadership and all but offered an olive branch to the NFLPA. The system has to change—and for the good of the game, it can’t wait until the next CBA negotiations roll around.
As for being in the line of fire: It’s a shame you won’t be at the 2015 season-opener between the Patriots and Steelers. It would probably be the most uncomfortable night of your life, but showing up and taking the heat would go a long way toward making people see you as a fallible person rather than a multimillion-dollar suit running a multibillion-dollar corporation that won’t stop until it gets its way. Do NFL fans everywhere a favor, Roger: Drop the appeal and give a televised interview from Gillette Stadium in which you say, with great candor, “We made our case. We took it to court. We lost. We’re moving on.” That’s the quickest, most effective way to put the focus back on football and restore public confidence.
Maybe I’ve come across as judge, jury and executioner here, but grant me this appeal: The integrity of how you run your business is the integrity of the game. So, please, take a deep breath and let all the air out of Deflategate.