In less than one week, the Super Bowl will be here, heightened more than ever by the controversy of the past week. The New England Patriots, the AFC champions, have had to dodge some pretty heavy scrutiny and criticism after playing what appeared to be an almost flawless game last week.
Deflatgate, as it's been coined by media, accuses the team of intentionally deflating the footballs to gain an advantage. Before the NFL investigation has concluded and determined findings and made recommendations, a very vocal mass has villainized the team and their ethics. For fans, it's pretty personal and disheartening. And if the adults are confused, younger fans have their heads spinning.
Parents and teachers can embrace the discussion and view it as a teachable moment and chance to learn lessons from those in spotlight. This is an opportunity to get children's attention easily and to talk about real issues. The lessons here apply just as much to outstanding athletes and students in grade school as they do to the Patriots.
Parents can use the recent examples and public reactions to speculations to inform children that their actions matter, even when they believe they aren't in the wrong and even when they think they did everything correctly. In other words, kids need to learn sometimes that the perception of others defines reality, that is, if people allow it to. Here are 10 teaching points:
1. Rumors hurt. Who knows what really happens and, until the puzzle of the balls are solved, rumors only make the situation worse. It's best to reserve judgment of others until the facts are known.
2. Being in the spotlight makes you an easy target. Children who are exceptional in any way have to know how to manage this. They should at least be aware of what will make them a target and what will help them to fit in. People are more alike then they are different, even very talented people and talented kids need to look for common ground. This will allow them to be judged fairly in the midst of controversy.
3. Read with caution. What happened in this last game has yet to be determined, but in the interim, the Patriots are getting a very negative rap through social media. Today, word spreads within seconds on the web and anyone can say anything. Who even knows what's true? We have to inform children that they should be cautious about what they read and hear from others who are quoting the web. It's important to teach kids not to participate in the media frenzy and to be informed consumers of information.
4. Mistakes are hard to live down. Previous poor decisions, even many years ago, are re-emerging and people are quick to judge based on past behavior. No mistake that can be avoided should be underestimated in terms of damage, especially in our current web-driven culture.
5. Rules have to be followed. We don't know how high the stakes are, especially for those who are already in the spotlight. It never pays to cheat. We may never know what happened to those footballs. But the reality is that they were the correct size during the second half and the Patriots outplayed their opponents. If they did cheat by deflating the balls, they didn't need to and now all these questions are being asked and distracting from their true talents. Having integrity and playing by the rules is more important than winning, and this situation exemplifies that.
6. Humility is important. We can teach our children to be humble and here's a perfect example of how this characteristic can make a difference in perception. Showing human qualities and being humble makes exceptional people more relatable and therefore, more forgivable. Being aloof does not win support.
7. Be nonreactive. Some things, even when you think you are doing everything right, can't be controlled. Becoming too reactive only makes the problem bigger. Teaching children strategies for stress management will come in handy when a real storm emerges from seemingly nowhere.
8. Keep goals in the forefront. Controversy will not delay the Superbowl. The best team will win and having this scrutiny before the big name will not be an acceptable excuse for poor performance.
9. Understand jealousy. People will always find faults with those who are exceptional; it is best to be prepared.
10. Take responsibility. Making mistakes in judgment is one thing, but how you deal with them defines a true champion.
The Super Bowl will be here soon enough and eventually, the current deflategate frenzy will pass. How people respond when they are being publicly and privately attacked will define them even after the controversy passes. In the end, it really is about how you play in sports and in life and not whether you win or lose.