Gail Sideman Publicity


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Leading the Deflategate PR battle is …

During the last weeks, I have read more sports legalese than most anyone who’s not a sports agent should. I have read about more bickering than you will hear at a dinner table with small children. I have read about leaks and lies and they’ve had nothing to do with the CIA.

As a sports fan and someone who’s worked on the publicity side of the sports business for more than 20 years, I’ve read accounts from both sides of Deflategate as they were further broken down after NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell upheld his sentence to Patriots’ quarterback 4-time Super Bowl winner, Tom Brady.

My first thought was that neither the NFL nor NFL Player’s Association were in an image beauty contest. A four-game suspension and $1.8 million fine for Brady for his alleged but not proven (see the Wells Report) role in deflating footballs prior the 2014 AFC Championship game appeased most everyone that dislikes the Patriots. In other words, people in all of the United States except Massachusetts.

Let’s face it; the Patriots have won a bundle since Brady took the QB reins 13-years-ago. They’ve been charged and penalized for skirting rules, none for which Brady’s name was implicated. Shoot, they’ve played to the very edge of the NFL rule book until others said they played too close and saw to it that the league changed said book.

At the beginning of this last week, if you gauged sentiment, you’d think that the NFL was winning the public relations battle. The NFL leader stuck to his guns and upheld punishment for a guy who did more to damage the game’s integrity than others who were arrested for whipping their significant others and children, accused of murder and more.

Yeah, about that …

In whole, this case seemed more like a fictitious movie script than real life because you can’t make this stuff up. Well, upon further review, it seems like Goodell might have made up a few things. You’ve got to start somewhere, but to think that there were rules in place for how socks could be worn during a game but no policy for what truly constituted violating the “integrity of the game” is mind-boggling. But I digress.

Looking under the hood, I found these things: Brady’s team and the NFLPA DID cooperate as requested during his interview for the Wells Report (footnote 11, page 12). The 11 of 12 footballs that were reportedly underinflated in the first half of the AFC Championship Game? As suspected months ago, it was false information. A report that set the nation into a finger-pointing, name-calling frenzy that labeled Brady the worst guy on earth, but wrong, nonetheless. (Read the memos released Friday and it reveals more.) But the obliterated phone, you say. The NFL told us that Brady destroyed his phone to purportedly hide evidence. That’s guilt! Wait – it looks like his agents volunteered that Brady smashed and replaced his phone at the get-go. (If you didn’t read weeks ago, see the part where Wells said he didn’t want to take possession of the phone, just the records, which were done on appeal.)

This isn’t meant to be a Cliff’s Notes version of Deflategate, but one of public relations and what was done to nurture one case or another.

That said, I didn’t understand why Brady was vague in interviews in days after PSI rumors were revealed, and he continues to be criticized for them today. I asked people that understand the legal ramifications better than me, and they said that the impending case did keep him from being more forthright. In retrospect, however, I think there are better ways to answer pointed questions even when the legal system more or less muzzles you.

Former players with whom I spoke said that Deflategate from the start has not only a waste of everyone’s time, but if anything, if “King Goodell”, as he’s being referred in some circles, can do this to a man who’s only crime in the NFL has been winning and attracting a lot of cameras, it can happen to anyone.

PR 101 teaches us to tell the truth and while we might speak our intentions, the way we act ultimately determines public perception. As the week ends, I see the NFL’s PR stock, a year ago rocked by Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and others, falling again. It may only recover if it comes clean admitting it served muck to the public since Day One of what became “Deflategate.” If all that’s been revealed to the public this week is true, it could take a lot of scrubbing.

(Copyright Gail Sideman, 2015)


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