Sometimes, you need to explain yourself, even if you’re Bill Belichick
The world of sports and the world of politics have many similarities.
Winners and losers. Fierce competition. Obsessive, almost cult-like, devotion to individual people and teams. Cheering crowds.
The biggest similarity, though, is the reliance on the public.
A football team is a business enterprise that relies on consumers of their product. In the case of the New England Patriots, for instance, owner Bob Kraft is asking us to invest not only our attention and affection into the team, but to actually patronize them.
They want thousands of dollars from me in ticket sales. They want me to buy outrageously priced food. They want hundreds of dollars in merchandise sales.
We are customers.
Similarly, our system of politics can’t exist without all the very same reliance on the public.
If you are a politician, you are asking the public at large to invest affection, financial resources, volunteer time and ultimately a vote into you.
We are customers.
That’s why when things go wrong for you, whether you are a candidate running for office, or the head coach of a football team, you need to explain yourself.
In either industry, there is nothing that compels you, as a matter of law, to stand up and address a scandal, a gaffe, or a poor decision. No one can make you do that.
If you are former governor and current Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and you lie to the public at large about hiking the Appalachian Trail while you are in reality with your mistress in Argentina, nothing can make you hold a press conference and explain — in excruciating detail — what happened.
We are not entitled to that information. You do not have to give it to us.
But if you want forgiveness, support, and a second chance, you do, in fact, need to stand up and give answers.
Which brings me to Bill Belichick.
The Patriots lost the Super Bowl on Sunday. Tom Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns. And lost.
The reason the Patriots lost the game was simple. Defense. They didn’t have any. Their Swiss cheese defense made Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles look like Joe Montana.
While this was happening, a defensive back — Malcolm Butler — who literally saved a Super Bowl for them only a few years prior was sitting on the sidelines. He did not play a defensive snap in the entire Super Bowl, despite having played 97 percent of all defensive snaps through the regular season.
Butler sitting could very well have been the reason they did not win.
In the aftermath to the game, Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia refused to answer any questions, saying only that the decision was not discipline-related and was about scheming and personnel.
No one believed them.
Asked again about it on a Monday conference call, Belichick became immediately irritated and again refused to answer the question, mocking the reporter who asked it.
This is a characteristic of Belichick’s that we in New England have all loved for virtually his entire tenure with the team.
But that decision was so critical, and also so incomprehensible, that he needs to explain it.
On Tuesday the rumor mill began spiraling out of control, accusing Butler of missing flights, team meetings, coming back to the hotel past curfew intoxicated, and getting caught with marijuana.
This would at least make sense and justify his benching, as the team should never allow a player that disrespectful of the team and the rules to play.
The only problem is, reports are now saying — and Butler is claiming — that each of those accusations is false. Those rumors filled a gap of information.
If it wasn’t discipline, than it was something else. And no one — no one — believes that a player who was on the field virtually for every defensive snap of every game all year and into the playoffs was left on the sideline for every single play because of scheming.
Being a coach, even the best coach ever, doesn’t make one above critical analysis or able to hide from having to answer questions about controversial decisions. This is controversial enough for Belichick to start talking.
When leaders make decisions that seem silly, capricious and void of explanation, confidence in leadership erodes, and discontent — and worse — creeps into that void.
He doesn’t owe me or any fan an explanation. But if he wants to avoid a much bigger problem, he, just like a scandalized politician, needs to do it anyway.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.