Yes, they got the call wrong. Yes, the officials mistake had a direct impact on the LA Rams going to the Super Bowl instead of the New Orleans Saints. And yes, everyone outside the NFL, wants to see replay rules changed.
All of that still misses the bigger issue, an issue that can affect your business as easily as the football business. The issue of transparency.
The referee in the NFC Championship game, was Bill Vinovich. He’s a good ref—or he wouldn’t have drawn that assignment. Did you see his press conference after the game, the one where he discussed at length with members of the media, what went wrong with that call? No you did not because the NFL doesn’t hold press conferences for officials.
Face the Music, or Face the Consequences
Coaches have to face the media. Players too. But not referees.
Most people will forgive a mistake, an honest mistake, one made while trying to do your best. It’s part of the human condition. But they won’t forgive a perceived cover up or hide out.
I don’t think the officials took part in any covert scheme to favor the Rams over the Saints. But the lack of transparency only fuels that kind of dangerous perception.
In New Orleans last week, dozens of people dressed up as blind referees during an anti-Super Bowl parade, protesting the blown call that kept the Saints out of the Super Bowl. But the bigger issue isn’t the call.
No organization, no league, no industry, will ever completely eliminate human error or mistakes. Worth the effort to try. But zero isn’t reality.
The NFL has failed to embrace the idea that if referees had to hold press conferences after games, they would in turn put more pressure on their officiating crews to get the job done right—as well as explain to the public when things aren’t as they appear. No one should be beyond the rules or the conversation about the rules–especially not the people charged with enforcing the rules.
You Owe it to the Market
Any organization owes it to the marketplace to be transparent with information that effects that marketplace.
It’s easy to join the collective outrage, to march in a parade, to thumb your nose at the NFL. But that’s not the most valuable take away. The most valuable take away comes from looking at the mistake the NFL makes with a lack of transparency around its officiating as ask yourself where your organization or your industry makes the same mistake of either cover up or hide out.
The combination of high definition video and social media make everything a public issue in a football game. Police now understand how that works with body cameras. Cell phones make any public setting a potential broadcast. And when information surrounding an error, a major error, hits the marketplace, the marketplace wants answers. Period.
You Make the Call
So the choice is yours. The next time you, your organization, or your industry make a mistake, ask yourself how you are going to handle it. Know that ignoring it or hiding behind policy and protocol are the easiest ways to think you are deflecting criticism in the short term. And know that doing the easy thing in the short term is rarely, if ever, the right thing to do in the long term.
In the digital age, we’re going to have the conversation with the culprit or without him or her. Why not be bigger than the issue and step to the front with transparency? It’s not just a football thing.