Until Deflategate erupted, I hadn’t realized the depth and breadth of Patriot Derangement Syndrome (PDS). It’s clearly a nationwide mental health condition.
Everyone afflicted with PDS believes the Pats are cheaters and liars who would lose every game if they didn’t cheat -- and then lie about cheating.
How did this happen?
The national sports media played an important role in spreading the myth.
Just last week, CNN ran a column headlined “Throw the Patriots out of the Super Bowl”, demanding that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell first “Disqualify the Patriots from the Super Bowl” and second “Strip the team’s AFC Championship title”.
Someone named Roxanne Jones who is described as “a former vice president at ESPN” wrote it. Good for the folks at the worldwide leader that she is a “former” something.
But even the authoritative ESPN came down with a bad case of PDS when their influential website ran a column written by a guy named Ian O’Connor opining that “Goodell needs to make Jimmy Garoppolo (Tom Brady’s backup) a starting quarterback a week from Sunday”, by suspending Brady from playing in the Super Bowl.
And these are just two of the many ridiculous stories being written and broadcast across the country, compounding PDS
So how are the Patriots handling this PDS contagion?
As someone who has spent years managing significant communication crises for institutions, corporations, and political figures, I’d say pretty well. Especially since the story is being driven by the sports press.
As many fans recognize, too many sportswriters and broadcasters are not trained in real journalism. It is not reasonable to expect them to rely on facts in their reporting as legitimate journalists would. There are exceptions, of course, but most of the sports press simply is not equipped to cover a story of this nature.
After letting the story fester for three days, the Patriots finally took action by having both Coach Bill Belichick and Brady hold press conferences to refute the charges.
The difference in styles was instructive.
Belichick began with a written statement, laying out his message, before he took a few questions, sticking with that message. He was off the podium in about twelve minutes. It was effective, a decent start -- even if not universally recognized as such.
Brady’s appearance lasted more than thirty minutes. He answered every question that the media tossed his way. That’s always a risky strategy. It lets the press control the agenda.
On Friday, the NFL said that they were extending the scope their investigation and wouldn’t announce results until after the Super Bowl.
This weak response by the league’s inept $42-million-a-year Commissioner, put the Patriots in the tough position. The team had to deal with rumors and innuendo with no official resolution in sight before Super Sunday.
Belichick then held a second press conference to announce the results of his own investigation. He did a sterling job and redfined the story
National sports commentators suddenly began saying and writing things such as “maybe we should wait for the facts to come out before we totally destroy the reputations of Belichick and Brady”. That was a step forward
Then on Monday, as the Pats arrived in Phoenix for the Super Bowl, team owner Robert Kraft put his own credibility on the line by announcing that he had full confidence in Belichick and Brady and he was sure they would be owed an apology when all the facts finally came to light. That grabbed the headlines for the day and the positive news trend continued.
Finally, at Tuesday’s mass media conference, the questions for Brady were about the game and when his super-model wife would be coming out to Phoenix.
Belichick was featured in stories discussing stuffed animals with the adorable daughter of one of his players.
Does that mean that Deflategate is over and that a cure has been found for PD?s Of course not.
But it’s smart crisis management..
The probable national story line leading up to the game will be: how much will Deflategate affect the Pats. Will it be a major distraction and lead to an easy Sea Hawks victory? Or will it fire up the Pats to win big?
This is the type of mindless conjecture (no facts needed, just opinion) at which the national sports media excels.
Let’s hope we can all hang in until 6:32 PM kickoff on Sunday when the sports media will finally be able to cover something real… The Game.
(Charley Manning is a crisis communication consultant in Boston and will be rooting for the Patriots on Sunday.)