It is Super Bowl weekend, and across the country we are all waiting for two teams to come together in fair competition to…
Wait a minute.
I should probably state up front that I’m a New England Patriots fan.
Many of the sports teams I follow came to me through marriage. I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the country, but when I agreed to marry a New England guy who loves his sports, there were some pretty clear requirements.
When it comes to football and baseball, there was no leeway. I had to love the Patriots and the Red Sox. Exclusively. Completely. With no hint of my past indiscretions with other teams.
At the time, neither team was doing so well. For the Red Sox, it was almost a hundred years of not so well. Any paraphernalia of other teams was to be burned in our wood stove. I drew the line at my World Series tickets, which almost cost me my marriage in 2004 until the Red Sox came back and won the Series.
Other than that minor (or so I thought) transgression, I accepted the terms of marrying a sports nut from New England.
Generally, I’m glad I did. Over the years, I’ve seen some amazing games and felt a part of millions of New Englanders celebrating their teams’ success. I’ve felt strong disappointment when they lost. I’ve been caught up in various rivalries, or angered in response to perceived wrongs.
Over the past two weeks, however, I have been amazed at the pure hatred coming at New England, as well as the responses from loyal fans.
I am not going to presume to know whether the Pats, Belichick or Brady are guilty of what they are accused. However, they are guilty of one thing. Being good.
Many fans are calling for the Pats to be pulled from the Super Bowl, Belichick to be fired, and all sorts of other extreme punishments. They say it’s because there’s a trend of the Pats cheating.
When articles are posted about other teams doing the exact same thing the Pats are accused of, there is not as much uproar. If there is a hint of suspicion about the Pats, however, they are tried and hanged immediately by the world.
When we are young, getting into sports and competition, we hear about fair play. Winners never cheat and cheaters never win. That’s the expression I remember growing up.
Other teams can cheat all day long. We may not like it, but we do not get nearly as riled up for one simple reason…they are not benefitting from it. The cheaters, in this case, aren’t winning.
Then we look at the Pats. They win. A LOT.
Consistently winning prompts speculation and accusations, regardless of industry. From one lens, breaking the rules looks like innovation. From another, it looks like cheating.
Look at Microsoft. At Apple. Were they participating in questionable practices to get an edge? Maybe. Were other companies? Probably. What’s the difference? Microsoft and Apple were winning.
Successful companies and teams have no room to cheat because they are winning. It goes against everything moral in us as human beings. Fans, customers, competitors and regulators will look for the wrong-doing that they assume must be there if a company or team is that successful.
What can a successful company do? Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard than everyone else. You cannot even create the perception that you cheat, or “bend the rules.” If it’s technically legal, but looks questionable, you can’t go there.
Part of the reason the Pats are being so vilified now is because of spy-gate. Whether they did anything different from other teams is not the issue. They created the perception they are cheaters.
Tom Brady, who by all appearances is a stand-up guy, was immediately called a cheater. Imagine for a moment that he really is that stand-up guy. He’s associated with a winning team that is perceived to use questionable tactics for their wins. He’s automatically guilty.
I don’t know that the Pats can do anything about their reputation at this point, other than go back to losing for another twenty year stretch. Even if the NFL gets off their duff and publicly exonerates them, the public still sees them as guilty.
The lesson for all of us is to keep our noses clean from the outset. Our successes need to come from doing things fair and right. If there’s even a hint that things are off in some way, we need to own it, fix it, and demonstrate integrity at every turn.
Because if we’re winning, we’re busy reaping the benefits of more customers and more business. We may be busy, but there are competitors who are on the sidelines. From there, it’s really easy to question and create suspicion.
We cannot provide our detractors with any ammunition, or we may find ourselves on the wrong end of our own deflate-gate.
Personally, I’m looking forward to the game tomorrow. For a few hours, our family will focus on (hopefully) fair and friendly competition instead of the craziness going on in the world. At the end of the day, football isn’t more important than that – it’s entertainment, not life and death. I’ll be glad when we stop talking about how much air is in a football as if it is.
What are your thoughts on whether leaders can push the rules to create success? In this age of innovation, does success require creating new rules and risk being seen as a rule breaker? I’d love if you could add your comments and keep the conversation going.