Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Ethical leadership in the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII victory

When the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, they did much more than win a football championship.  To Eagles fans, the victory represented the culmination of 52 years spent waiting for their team to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy home to Philadelphia.  Feeling disliked, disrespected, and underestimated by rivals and analysts alike, the Eagles and their fans leaned into their adopted underdog persona, making the ultimate win all the more powerful.

The media attention around the aftermath of the game has focused on the jubilation and vindication, amidst this prior doubt and dismissal, felt by the fans, the players, the coaching staff, and everyone affiliated with the team.  All this was capped off by a joyful parade down Broad Street to commemorate the accomplishment.

The Eagles’ Super Bowl LII victory has also offered several examples of ethical leadership in the speeches and comments made by players and examples set by the team’s management that commentators have now pointed out.  These often touching, sometimes funny, and always inspiring insights are powerful demonstrations of individual and organizational values and integrity, as follows:

  • Jason Kelce – After winning the Super Bowl, Eagles center Jason Kelce wore his emotions on his sleeve, looking back on his long and unconventional path to the apex of his profession. Kelce explained that his grandfather and parents had instilled in him the value of persistence, from which he got motivation through being doubted and written off by people.  Kelce mentioned a Calvin Coolidge quote that his grandfather shared with him to encourage him which has become a touchstone in his life.  The quote is highly worth reading, as it praises persistence and determination as the highest expression of character ethic and therefore, the culmination of ethical conduct that will lead to accomplishment:  Eagles C Jason Kelce gave an emotional speech about persistence after winning a Super Bowl
  • Nick Foles – Eagles quarterback Nick Foles gave a victory speech which took a novel and provocative perspective on the opportunities of failure along the path to inner success. Foles encouraged fans to learn to embrace failure even amid the often attention-seeking, material-obsessed, superficial culture of today where people curate their digital selves to show only the good things that happen to them in the most positive possible light.  Foles, an unexpected leader following his promotion from backup after Eagles star quarterback Carson Wentz was injured earlier in the season, says that failure is an important part of life and sustaining through adversity is part of growing character and establishing identity based upon it:  Eagles quarterback Nick Foles’ Super Bowl victory speech has an important lesson about failure
  • Chris Long – Eagles defensive end Chris Long has made a habit, and a brand, for himself out of exhibiting social responsibility. Long puts intention to action with the Chris Long Foundation, which he started in 2015 to raise funds for several charitable initiatives and use his public platform to bring attention and money to the causes he cares about.  Long has never shied away from confronting his own privilege or using the advantages he’s been giving to support and promote communities and other people in need.  Long has been bold about political engagement as well and is known and respected among his teammates as being wiling to both speak up and out and to do concrete things with his social awareness:  During an NFL season of protests and criticism, Chris Long asked, “Why not help?”
  • Malcom Jenkins – One of Long’s frequent partners in his philanthropic and social missions, and a powerful actor for social justice himself, is Eagles strong safety Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins has been active in protests for social justice, not just by passive support or making gestures and statements but by playing active roles in negotiating with the NFL league administration as well as community groups in order to push for reform and progress.  Jenkins has been recognized for his brand of leadership, which is a personable type of advocacy that inspires others to step up as leaders themselves.  Not satisfied to blend into the crowd, Jenkins has stepped up to make ties with organizations in interests of promoting trust and progress, being a credible and impressive example of ethical leadership that can make a real impact:  I nearly quit watching the NFL.  The humanity of Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long brought me back
  • Team culture – Head coach Doug Pederson was counted out and scorned by many, both before and during the 2017-2018 season. He was called unqualified, questioned and criticized at every turn.  However, now that the Eagles have won the Super Bowl, the long view on his leadership has taken on a markedly more positive tone.  Pederson is being credited with a transformation in organizational culture that set the Eagles on their path to victory:  Philadelphia’s Football Revolution:  How a Cultural Shift Explains the Eagles’ Rise & How Doug Pederson’s love of ice cream and analytics helped him change culture of Eagles

Apart from members of the Eagles organization, Tom Brady, the quarterback of the Patriots and one the most well-known and critically-acclaimed football players of his era, set an impressive example for ethical leadership of his own in his first social media post after his Super Bowl loss.  Brady spoke out on gratitude, setting an exemplary model for conduct at the top, in an Instagram post:  Tom Brady Summed Up His Super Bowl Loss With One Word.  You Should Steal It.

For more on the intersection of sports and ethics or compliance, check out this post on ethical leadership of sports coaches or this post on fraud in sports.  Both of these posts are the last in their respective series, and contain links to all the prior entries in each series in their first paragraphs.

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