Tom Brady’s lost NFL appeal will cost him more than four games and $1.88 million dollars in salary. It will cost him strength of reputation. Regardless of whether you like Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, only a fool would question his accomplishments as a QB. He built a reputation as a winner. Now his reputation tilts in a very different direction. The Patriots will be aggressive in defending Brady. They already have. But a sea of press releases don’t change how the public perceives a public figure’s reputation.
I’m not here to play judge and jury on Tom Brady. The NFL commissioner handled that as the appeals arbitrator. The big impact for Brady—and the Patriots—will go far beyond the first quarter of the 2015 season. Brady will feel the bigger impact in the future when another incident comes up—either on or off the field—and Brady finds himself in a situation where it’s his word against someone else’s. His word won’t carry the weight it once did.
The late Stephen Covey once said, “You can’t talk your way out of problems you behaved yourself into.” That applies to all of us. Whether you’re a quarterback, a coach, a minister, a CEO, an astronaut, a teacher, or any other kind of professional, you build your reputation slowly. You can destroy it quickly. Especially when you hide behind a faux veil of innocence instead of simply saying, “I made a mistake. I apologize.”
Sports gives us this lesson over and over again, but it’s not a sports issue. It’s a leadership communication issue. Every leader communicates with his or her reputation. The minute that leader walks to the front of the room, shows up on TV, or appears on a website he or she sends a message. If you’re a die-hard Tom Brady fan, you’ll probably stand by your quarterback. That’s human nature. But for most, Brady moves into the category of the fallen, the tainted, the cheaters. Fighting that perception usually just fuels it. And winning in court is far different than winning over the court of public opinion. Barry Bonds proved that.
Yes, America loves to build up and tear down its sports heroes. But all leaders should look long and hard at this example. Reputation either gives you a strong foundation upon which you can build great things or it can topple under its unruly weight. And your reputation will always speak more loudly than your words.