Leadership in the NFL? Better Deflate Expectations

Two days from now the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots will meet in the Superbowl to determine who takes home the Vince Lombardi trophy and title of NFL World Champions. In a game with rich storylines between two teams who appear to be very evenly matched, media coverage to this point has been focused primarily on the developing controversy of “Deflate Gate” and what fine we can expect to be levied on Marshawn Lynch for his continued avoidance of media interaction. Fans are quick to chastise the press for a dearth of analysis about the game itself; however the fault lies with the persistent lack of leadership shown by Roger Goodell and his proven inability to ethically manage both player and league issues.

Questioning Credibility: Not Belichick’s First Rodeo

University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona plays host to this NFL season’s main event and last time the Superbowl was held in the same venue was in 2008, Bill Belichick and New England were seeking to become the first team in over 35 years to assemble a perfect season. Leading up to the big game, the Patriots were also facing questions from the media regarding accusations that the organization was illegally filming opponents and their signals in what would become their first “Super” Scandal: Spy Gate.

Roger Goodell, already holding a videotape containing illegal footage of New York Jets defensive coaches and their signals (A video Roger Goodell actually watched?), ordered the Patriots to turn over all notes and video relating to the recording of opponents’ defensive signals. Materials which Goodell promptly ordered destroyed—only 2 days before Superbowl XLII. This move drew the ire of many, most notably criticized by US Senator Arlen Specter who claimed that Bill Belichick had been deceiving everyone since he’d taken over as head coach in 2000—assuming the vacancy left by the firing of Pete Carroll, currently head coach of the Seahawks.

To quote Yankee great Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Since the final whistle of the AFC Championship and the rumors of underinflated balls somehow surfaced, the NFL and Roger Goodell have discovered that 11 of 12 New England footballs were indeed below league inflation standards and seized all stadium surveillance footage to determine at what point the game balls were tampered with and by whom. While this witch-hunt remains ongoing and will most likely remain a mystery when the Superbowl kicks off, fans everywhere are left to speculate as to what the NFL’s next move will and should be. However the budding current scandal perhaps precedes even Spy Gate.

Brady’s Bunch of Balls

In 2006, only a year prior to the Patriots quest for perfection, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning lobbied the NFL Competition Committee to permit individual teams the full control over provision and preparation of game balls. The rule change was applauded by every quarterback and was put in place for the 2006 season. Current Rams Coach Jeff Fisher told the Sun-Sentinel, “I don't know that you'll be able to quantify the impact that it has. I think it's a comforting factor for the quarterbacks to be able to use their own balls, and it made sense to the committee.” Fisher was co-chairman of the competition committee and at the time the head coach for the Tennessee Titans.

While the change seemed logical, teams before would have no idea the condition of the footballs prior to game time, Roger Goodell failed to follow change management principles and develop implementation strategies in the adoption and successful enforcement of the new rule, subsequently laying the groundwork which would allow teams an opportunity to bend or break the rules.

Earlier this week, the NFL reported that a member of New England’s staff was in possession of the footballs following inspection from the officiating crew prior to kickoff. Stadium surveillance recorded this person entering a bathroom with the game balls before exiting roughly 90 seconds later. Many began asking if a minute and a half was enough time to tamper with the pressure, lowering the PSI level. Perhaps a better question to ask is why a member of the Patriots Organization had the footballs to begin with once they had been approved by NFL Officials? Goodell should have anticipated, as forward thinking successful leaders do, that in order to prevent any impropriety with ball handling, footballs once inspected must remain with the referees on their way to a designated field location.

Mess with the Beast; You get…silence.

Meanwhile Roger Goodell and the NFL continue to threaten more fines on Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch for his avoidance of the media or anything else they deem as an act of defiance. Whether an act or not, the NFL and Roger Goodell have determined Lynch’s antics to be in violation of contractual obligations to speak to the media on designated occasions and following games. Nevertheless, until Roger and the NFL exhibit some level of integrity in working with an employee to find a solution to a contractual performance issue, they can expect to hear the equivalent of “I am Groot” at every press conference until Beast Mode enters retirement mode, at which point they’ll hear nothing.

This ongoing battle resembles more and more John Bender and Principal Gleason’s exchange in The Breakfast Club. The latest warning issued before Tuesday’s Superbowl media day threatened Lynch with a $500,000 fine if he wasn’t present to answer questions. Seeming content with another detention, Marshawn proceeded to answer every question with “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” He spent the required time in front of the press, but as Wednesday dawned the NFL began discussing a “substantial” fine for Marshawn sporting an unauthorized hat during his media session. The NFL prohibits players from wearing unlicensed NFL brands during league sanctioned events once fining Brian Urlacher $100,000 for a Vitamin Water cap in 2006. Lynch’s hat however displayed the New Era logo, the official brand of hat for the National Football League.

Roger Goodell’s management style and handling of a seemingly insubordinate employee leave much to be desired. Perhaps Marshawn Lynch in fact does have social anxiety to some degree. Maybe it is all an act. Either way, the NFL and Roger Goodell resemble bad parents with a “my way or NO WAY” attitude, which coincidentally is a terribly inefficient approach to managing. The Seahawks praise Beast Mode as an irreplaceable teammate and presence in the locker room. If the league cared about wanting to hear what Marshawn Lynch was all about they would work with him privately to determine an acceptable substitute to a postgame press conference where players are often still in the heat of the moment. Given that some might consider this “special treatment,” to say that there isn’t a discrepancy in attention already would be false; the NFL doesn’t require punters, kickers and most linemen to speak to the media.

Many Patriot fans and members of the 12thMan would like nothing more than Superbowl discussion topics to focus on a matchup of great coaches with different approaches, two great quarterbacks with remarkably similar career paths, and defenses renowned for their ability to limit scoring and force turnovers. Yet it’s precisely because of the management missteps from Commissioner Roger Goodell that the attention lies elsewhere. To say he has mishandled league issues is a gross understatement. As a result of growing doubt, the fate of “Deflate Gate,” Roger Goodell and perhaps to some degree the legacies of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick now rest with the court of public opinion.

Richard Sherman, cornerback and the voice of the Seahawks Legion of Boom, states that Roger Goodell has a “conflict of interest” in deciding the outcome and potential punishment any Patriot personnel found to have played a role in Deflate Gate. Former NFL Quarterback and CBS analyst Boomer Esiason feels that Roger Goodell should fine the boisterous cornerback for insulting his integrity with his comments. A fine for an employee of the NFL voicing an opinion of his superior based on documented lack of discretion on multiple occasions and shared sentiment with general NFL fandom would be a confirmation of all that is wrong with the backwards leadership of the NFL. But then again, we shouldn’t expect anything else from its current management and commissioner.

Christopher Flores currently works as digital marketing and social media manager, blogger and editor for Media Partners. He has over 15 years customer service experience, including both retail and call center management.