Deflategate and The Power of Assumption

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Deflategate and
The Power of Assumption
The Ever-Present Nature of Unconscious Bias and
How It Permeates Everything
By Kris Kile

  Anyone in the US who is a sports fan has probably heard about “Deflategate.” You may wonder what Deflategate has to do with transformational distinctions, but bear with me…

…It is marvelously instructive.

Deflategate is a controversy over whether this year’s Super Bowl football champions, the New England Patriots, intentionally deflated their game balls to gain an advantage in the AFC conference championship against the Indianapolis Colts. Their defeat of the Colts in that game earned them a place in the Super Bowl, which they then won against the Seattle Seahawks.


The NFL commissioned a lawyer, Ted Wells, to investigate this and issue a report and after over a hundred days of investigation, he issued his report exonerating the Patriots coaching staff, headed by Bill Belichick, and the team owner, Robert Kraft, from having any role in in the deflating of the balls.


However, the Wells Report said, “it is more probable than not” that some Patriot equipment managers participated in a deliberate plan to circumvent the rules by releasing air from Patriots game balls, and that Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, “was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.” Tom Brady is considered one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time and prior to this, had a squeaky clean image. Now, the NFL has suspended Brady and fined the Patriots. The suspension will more than likely go through an appeal process.


I am not here to make a case one way of the other. Truth be told, I am a Patriots fan, and lived in New England for twenty years, even having season tickets to Patriots games for a couple years. So, you can rest assured, I have a point of view on this controversy.


My automatic reaction is that it is overblown, irrelevant, with mushy findings, deeply envious opposing fans, media and teams fueling the fervor, with a flawed investigation, a biased conclusion, and ridiculously harsh punishment by the $44 million salary per year, incompetent commissioner, Roger Goodell.   And, my temptation would be to argue that all day long, with reams of evidence to back my case.


Others think it is indicative of an institutional arrogance and a cheating culture within the Patriots organization, that Brady is a liar, and that he should have been banned from playing for an entire year.


If that occurred, I would find it deeply deflating and an entirely inflated conclusion.


However, I have became more fascinated by the variety of reactions to this controversy than any other aspect. I started noticing that, for the most part, the wildly varying takes on this from media, other players, and fans in general had more to do with their affiliations and personal history than it did with anything else.
We all come into any interaction
with an entire set of assessments and assumptions,
many of which feel definitive with lots of
evidence to back them up.


In the last blog we explored briefly the impact our unquestioned assumptions have on our experience of living. Today, let’s look at another key impact of unquestioned assumptions.


Unexamined assumptions lead to a false sense
of certainty that inherently erodes

        • • Awareness
        • • An ability to get at the current reality
        • • The possibility of connection


Once I embrace certainty, my brain automatically starts looking for evidence to back my assumptions, and automatically discounts, or doesn’t even see, evidence to the contrary. This makes me less aware of my personal impact. It also impedes my ability to get an accurate read on what is actually happening. And, it diminishes my interest and ability to connect with those of opposing views, as I judge them for being wrong.


In any situation there are at least three points of view:
  • My point of view
  • The other’s point of view
  • What actually happened


Our assumptions lead to a flavored interpretation,
an unconscious bias that inescapably influences our point of view.
And, most of our assumptions are based on unquestioned historical and cultural influences that we actually had little to do with.
For example, why am I a Patriots fan? Primarily two things…I lived in their region for twenty years and they are really, really good. I have a good friend who is a Cleveland Browns fan, even though they have sucked forever. Why?  Because he grew up in Cleveland (Browns fans seem especially committed to suffering). Your history, culture—national, regional, community, all the way down to family culture–have an enormous influence on what you are “certain” about—with much of these influences being  unconscious.


The only way to not have this dynamic lead us around by the nose all day long, every day, is to release our felt need to be right in any given moment, and to be curious about what is going on for those with differing points of view.


Curiosity, care, and the courage of personal inquiry
are bedrock attitudes for a transformative lifestyle.


Think about what a difference this would make in political discourse, religious discourse, opposing people-group’s discourse.


So, I started getting curious about those with opposing points of view. Rather than judging them, I worked to become curious. Not that my perspective was without merit—it just was, at best, incomplete and subjectively distorted.


And, I am starting to see some things. For one, I am starting to see how Tom Brady himself is fueling the fervor of this controversy in a significant way. We will explore that in the next blog.


What is your take on Deflategate and, as you reflect on it, what are the assumptions you have that are influencing your point of view?


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