The NFL needs to stop digging


One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever heard was presented in a very simple sentence:

When you find you’re in a hole, stop digging

As I recall, my first encounter with the proverb came in 1990 at a commencement address from William Safire. That said, the overall concept seems to have existed in some form for quite a while, including being attributed in part to Will Rogers.

The advice itself is really brilliant though. In fact, as a life lesson for all purposes, it matches up quite nicely with years of experience I’ve had with first aid and medical scenarios, which more or less can be generically summarized this way:

The first order of business should always be stabilizing the situation. Don’t let it get worse.

Now this comment is mine. My words. My summary of thoughts. Kind of a simple definition of first aid.

When you arrive on a scene and find someone with a broken bone, the trick of first aid, of initial care, is making sure things don’t get worse. The hospital and doctor can apply a cast, perform surgery, and do anything else that might be part of improving, healing and offering long-term treatment. The ambulance crew, the person offering first aid, needs to address bleeding, keep the patient as calm as possible, and… to use the words I used above… stabilize things and make sure they don’t get worse.

I could pass along more examples and information and explanations, but I think you see where I’m going… and to that I mean bringing this to the real world, real life concepts… once you realize you have a problem, whether big or small, the very first thing to do is everything possible to make sure it doesn’t get worse.

And that folks, is where the huge issue is to be found with the whole Tom Brady air in the footballs story. Because, in my opinion, the NFL has proven itself to be amazingly inept at providing general first aid to some of their biggest emergencies in recent years. And the Brady situation is now the biggest example of all.

Before we go any further, we need to establish something. Basically, two directly opposing viewpoints, and yet distinctly two sides of the same coin.

View number one ~ Brady is innocent.

View number two ~ Brady and the entire New England organization are a bunch of lousy cheaters.

For many people, one of these views isn’t available for debate. Some are convinced that Brady is unquestionable in this. And for some, Brady is guilty, guilty, guilty.

The thing is… for those that do fall into either of these camps, their opinion is absolute and without compromise. And, in part, that is absolutely something to know exists. Brady will never, and I do so mean the complete and definitive use of NEVER, clear his name with the group convinced he had everything to do with the pressure of the footballs.

(This group also tends to blame him for subjects such as every penalty flag thrown throughout the league, the price of gasoline, their dislike of lobster rolls, and global warming. However, I’m trying to remain impartial here, and not point fingers or throw around baseless accusations about a group of whining crybabies. I mean, really… I, umm… ok… back to the topic at hand…)

The point is, this issue is already decided for many people. Not necessarily a majority of people. But many people. No matter how it was (or is) investigated, resolved, punished, or presented… Brady’s image was beyond accusation and, more accurately stated: “How DARE they say this about him!”… or… Brady was guilty, and any effort to say otherwise was yet another campaign to bow down to the Patriots and give them whatever they want if they stomp their feet and complain enough.

I am not here to convince anyone that their prevailing thoughts are wrong.

(Although… tangent… I will say to those convinced the NFL is without a doubt at all acting appropriately, you might want to call all the schools you’ve attended and see if you can get any sort of settlement concerning your education. Honestly, have you read the reports about the undisputed parts of this story? No system for testing footballs during or after games, no system for logging readings and retaining information, gauges providing conflicting results and no consensus on which gauges were even used when, footballs from the Colts also registering as underinflated, a long-time official stating he knows defective footballs are possible and would lose pressure, and… well… the list just keeps going.)

Instead, what I want to say is directed more toward the NFL… the league offices… the commissioner. And it’s a very basic question.

At any point, did it occur to you to stop digging?

Because my lord, I cannot believe how every passing wave of attention and stage of the process makes Roger Goodell look like an absolutely dumbfounded imitation of Moe Howard.

Months ago… MONTHS ago… this is what should have happened. (Completely my suggestion.)

(Act One, Scene One -- Roger Goodell brings Tom Brady into his office and speaks privately to him)

“Tom, here’s the deal. This entire investigation stinks. The league obviously needs to establish some strict guidelines and procedures for how the footballs are tested, handled, and secured. I am not happy by the details I am seeing. Not happy by the measurements that were recorded.

“I’m not thrilled by the feedback I am getting from other teams about the actions of you, your coach, and your organization. I’m not saying anything specific. I’m just saying there are a lot of people that, out of jealousy that is petty or experience that might be justified but they just can’t prove, don’t like or trust the New England Patriots. And what I see here I don’t like.

“But the fact is, no accusations can be proven. And there is plenty of questionable information that has scientific evidence for being plausible without foul play. We’re going address that. We’re going to take our medicine and make every attempt possible to protect the integrity of the game now and going forward.

“That said, I will not let a player, no matter how talented, celebrated, decorated or important, defy the NFL. You and I both know some of the difficulties created by your actions in this investigation. And I cannot let that stand here on its own, or as an example for the future. So I’m giving you a choice. You do not have to admit any guilt. You do not have to say anything publicly. You are either going to pay a fine that equal’s four games worth of pay, or, you’re going to be suspended for the first game of the season, with the explanation being violations of the personal conduct policy due to lack of cooperation in a league investigation.”

(Act Two, Scene One -- Roger Goodell holds a press conference)

“I want to thank you all for being here today. I have a statement to make, and I will not take any questions at this time. There will be official materials handed out to you at the conclusion of this press conference, and they will also be made available from our league offices.

“As you know, there have been questions raised about the equipment used during the AFC Championship game, specifically as this relates to the air pressure of the footballs being used during play.

“These events, and our investigation into them, has demonstrated that the NFL, our personnel and our policies, have been insufficient and in many ways inadequate. We have found that there is a need to better test equipment before, during and after games. We have found that there is a need for better and more consistent tracking systems, monitoring processes, and then more, right down to the calibration of gauges being used and the security of the footballs from the time of measurement through the completion of the game.

“The National Football League accepts our responsibility for improving in these areas, raising our level of knowledge about these situations, and protecting the fair and level playing field that makes the competition found in our sport so great.

“We have found no verified or definitive evidence of improper action by anyone, from league officials to team personnel, in this matter. And as such, no punishments will be handed down against the New England Patriots in this matter.

“However, we are disappointed by the actions of Tom Brady during the investigation process. And as such, we have expressed our concerns, explained our expectations, and for his conduct Mr. Brady has been fined a total of a four game suspension, where he will be allowed to play without pay.”

Is it perfect? No… of course not. This two act play is an outline, and not a true solution. But…

There is absolutely nothing about this entire situation that is getting better. Nothing. From the stories, tweets and reports during the first days after the AFC Championship game… through the Wells report… through the appeal process… and now marching into federal court… this has been a parade of increasing stupidity. (You guessed it… an ever-growing hole.)

And the group to blame is the NFL. It is their actions that allowed the initial fires to grow and spread without action. It is their actions that allowed a Super Bowl to be, at times, overshadowed… their actions that have unleashed the major story of this offseason… their actions that threaten to watch it take over the next season.

In summary, the NFL just keeps digging. And they keep digging even though it was obvious there was a hole… they keep digging even though it was obvious the hole was getting bigger… and they keep digging even though it is becoming evident that hole cannot be filled.

It’s a disgrace.

Now… before you go all crazy… defending Brady and his innocence… challenging the non-admission fine I’m suggesting… whatever… consider…

The NFL has released a program for the monitoring of footballs that will be put into place this very season. And, by the time the next Super Bowl is played, results will be in. Results and data the league has never before had available. Amazingly, all signs… from the materials in their own Wells Report on this situation, to the very laws of physics and the natural world… indicate that they will find the pressure in footballs does change during a contest, and does drop in cold weather. Which means…

Knowledge that any of us that have stepped outside while holding a bunch of balloons for a party on a cold December day could have provided them for free -- The NFL will have paid lawyers and staff an unreal amount of money to find out that, as noted in The Breakfast Club, “the world’s an imperfect place”… and so are footballs.

When this happens, Tom Brady may have been suspended for multiple games… potentially altering the results of the season in dramatic ways… only to learn that, amazingly, those readings might not be that far out of line after all.

Someone is going to get those numbers. And if they support what defenders of Tom Brady and the Patriots have been claiming, the size of this hole will be beyond belief. You think it’s funny now? Just wait… because NFL staff seems to still have shovels in their hands… and the data seems to say that digging will continue.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at