Never in the history of modern times have we been presented with such a golden opportunity to teach our children as we have with the sensational ‘Deflategate.’ Its lessons can particularly resonate with adolescents, who know of Tom Brady and the Patriots, whether they are football fans or not. Young brains are so plastic, learning from incidents during this time will have has a long term impact, making the controversy even more important to talk about. In The Age of Opportunity, author Laurence Steinberg stresses how the adolescent brain is a sponge and that most memories are rooted during that period. In the book, he writes, “Nearly everyone recalls adolescence more powerfully than any other stage of life.”
Another reason to discuss Deflategate is because lying occurs, often frequently, among this age group. No longer under the constant supervision of schools, caregivers or parents, adolescents have more freedom to do things and go places that adults may not approve of. So it’s not unusual to stretch the truth, even among the most compliant, well-behaved kids. Child behavioral therapist and author James Lehman says that teenagers lie or tell half-truths for many reasons, from to avoiding things they don’t want to do, to covering their tracks. So any opportunity to teach them about the consequences of deception is a valuable one.
The other day, I was driving my daughter and her friends to the high school. Usually, I just listen in to their conversations like a fly on the wall. But when a voice from the back seat said that deflating the footballs was “no big deal,” I had to interject. Here’s what I told them:
Any action that gives one team a competitive advantage over another is against the rules. Period. End of story. On top of that, Brady was not upfront during those press conferences last winter. Months later, his this has come back to bite him. The Wells Report uncovered several incriminating text messages that implicate who was involved in the pre-game shenanigans and why. The findings conclude that Brady “more likely than not” was aware of what transpired. In a 20,000 word rebuttal, the Patriots organization fights back, providing some ridiculous interpretations of the messages. The “deflator” was talking about weight loss? The ‘Tom’ cited in the texts is not the football player? If these statements weren’t so comical, everyone would be mad about having their intelligence insulted. So whether you are on the field, in the workplace or in a relationship, being on the defensive is never a good thing. Remember this for the rest of your lives. As for letting air out of some footballs, that act, in and of itself, may not seem like a big deal. Lying, evasiveness, stonewalling and covering it up is. In a big way. And if you do mess up, admit it. Brady could take a page from the Justin Beiber playbook. In the current edition of Seventeen magazine, the pop star explains, “You have to own up to your mistakes. You have to say I let you down.”
Brady could put an end to his public relations problems right now. By accepting his punishment like a man and the MVP that he is and taking it on that adorable, dimpled chin of his. His legions of fans will forget the incident long before the “balls” jokes have faded from Jimmy Fallon’s monologue. Not only that, he’ll gain favor among a whole new group of people for heroically showing us he’s not perfect and that he’s just like the rest of us. He’ll even be immortalized as a college case study for communications students. An upside has never looked so good! On the other hand, Brady can continue to deny the allegations as his credibility sinks like the sun after a late afternoon game. Recovering one’s positive image is difficult and can be a long time on the bench of life. Even for the most beautiful man on earth and the greatest NFL player that ever lived.
We passed the football field and the girls seemed like they were listening. I wrapped up my rant with a simple message that applies no matter who you are or what you do: Always tell the truth. And nothing but the truth.
Needless to say, the girls were a little late for school, but my message about honesty, maturity and accepting responsibility — all sprinkled with a little PR 101 — was right on time. For parents, educators and other influencers of young people, Deflategate is being served up on a silver platter right now as a life lesson. Don’t fumble it.