by Steve Adubato, PhD

I’m not a big Mets fan. In fact, I love the Yankees. But as readers of this column know, I often use sports related cases to highlight important communication and leadership topics.

Consider the case of NY Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who gave a recent interview to New Yorker Magazine in which he made a series of miscalculated, undisciplined, dangerous, and most of all, counterproductive and divisive comments about the team he owns and the players that work for him. Here are some choice excerpts that demonstrate how NOT to communicate in public when talking about your very personal and candid feelings about team members:

About David Wright, the Mets most talented and publicized player who is currently sidelined with a stress fracture in his back, Wilpon said; “He’s pressing. A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.” Ouch.

Regarding Carlos Beltran, who recently signed a contract worth over $100 million and who has experienced some significant injuries, Wilpon offered this gem; “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series. He’s sixty-five to seventy percent of what he was.”

And, finally, regarding Jose Reyes, the Mets talented shortstop whose contract is soon up for renegotiation, Wilpon said; “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money. He’s had everything wrong with him. He won’t get it.”

I don’t know what Fred Wilpon was thinking and I’m not convinced it was part of a broader communication or media strategy. But as soon as it happened, the bottom began to fall out. The media was all over it. With his sloppy communication, Wilpon had created a massive controversy on a team that is already struggling.

Imagine your boss talking about you in the following way at a very public an annual shareholders meeting; “Jim Smith is a pretty good manager in our company, but frankly, he is overpaid. I don’t even think he’s giving us everything he’s got. I wish I never hired him. If I could dump him, I would.” Imagine you are Jim Smith. What does it do to your reputation to have the CEO say this about you in front of so many people? What impact would it have on your ability to lead and mange your team? What would it do to your morale and ultimately your performance?

There was a lot of pressure on Fred Wilpon to apologize personally to these three players and the rest of the team. Ultimately, he opted for a conference call in which he apologized. While no one is sure what was said in that call, Reyes said after the fact; “We said we didn't care and it was time to move on… He's the boss. He can say whatever he wants to.”

Jose Reyes is right. Technically the owner, the boss, the CEO, CAN say anything he wants. The question is, SHOULD he say anything he wants? Absolutely not, because nothing good comes from it.

Wilpon should have thought through what areas he did not want to discuss in the New Yorker interview. Effective and disciplined communication requires you to envision a football goal post. Everything that falls inside the goal post is “on message”. These are the things you want and need to talk about—disciplined communication. However, everything outside of the goal post should be considered shark infested waters. Dangerous. Not only do you not get any points for being outside the goal post, you can get eaten alive or seriously burned in the public arena.

Next time, stay inside the goal post, Mr. Wilpon. It will save you and your team a lot of trouble. That lesson shouldn’t be lost on the rest of us.