One can win in the court of law but still lose in the court of public opinion. We have just seen this with New England Quarterback Tom Brady. A federal judge threw out the NFL’s four game suspension of Brady for his involvement in ‘deflategate’ last season during the playoffs. In case you forgot, ‘deflatgate; arose when the New England Patriots used suspiciously underinflated footballs in the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts in what became known as ‘deflategate’.
The Patriots, Super Bowl Champions and star quarterback, Tom Brady denied any knowledge of the incident. A beleaguered NFL Commissioner Goodell appointed attorney, Theodore Wells to head an investigation into ‘deflategate’. The investigation concluded that it was “more probable than not” that New England Patriots equipment personnel were deliberately circumventing the rules. Further, Brady was implicated as it being more probable than not that he was aware of the deflation.
The judge did not address the issue of whether Brady knew and participated in ‘deflatgate’ but said the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL players union did not give Goodell, the authority to suspend Brady. In terms of public relations it was a blow to both Brady and Goodell.
Tom Brady has been one of the most popular NFL players in years. He has been a proven champion. Yet ‘deflatgate’ has tarnished his image. A majority of fans believe despite his denials that he did know and participate in ‘deflategate’ and lied to investigators. The judge’s ruling in his favor does nothing to change that perception.
What should he do to rehabilitate his image?
1. Address ‘deflategate’ in a press conference in which he answers every question thrown at him until reporters are exhausted.
2. Adopt some charities to work with and be active with. Just lending his name will not be enough.
3. Become a role model for new players.
4. Do an exclusive interview with a Charlie Rose or Oprah that will allow him to show a more human side.
5. Continue playing like a champion.
6. Realize that no matter what, ‘deflategate’ will always be a part of his legacy.
For Roger Goodell who in 2014 suffered severe criticism for not being tough enough, today’s ruling is a public relations defeat. Goodell has spent much of this year in trying to restore the integrity of the game. Yet many believe he has been giving suspensions such as he did to Brady with the knowledge that they would be thrown out but with the purpose of looking tough.
So what should Goodell do?
1. Address the issue that his punishments are not just a public relations ploy but rather an attempt to restore the integrity of the NFL.
2. Speak out vocally on issues where the public has lost trust in the NFL.
3. Continue to give out strict punishments against players who violate the rules.
4. Work on change within the NFL culture from within with players and owners.
Today’s ruling puts Tom Brady back on the field and Roger Goodell on the sidelines. But it also leaves a black-eye for both, and the NFL in terms of public perception.