An endzone dance poses a leadership conundrum

In the first half of a game against the Washington Redskins on November 12, wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught an easy touchdown pass to put his Minnesota Vikings ahead on the scoreboard. But then he decided to have a little fun by leaping onto the goalpost and hugging it comically—resulting in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct which significantly shortened the field for the opponent on the ensuing kickoff.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer had a little talk with Diggs afterward about the incident.

Was a “talk” enough?

As the team’s leader, Zimmer was presented with a player whose considerable skills aided them in their 38-30 victory that day, but who on the spur of the moment decided it was more important to showboat than display more traditional enthusiasm. That selfishness hurt the team in a very concrete way. The Redskins used their unexpectedly advantageous field position to start a drive which resulted in a touchdown, putting them back on top. “Thanks a bunch, Stefon,” the Vikings’ defensive unit likely thought, “for making our job a little harder.”

Leaders often find themselves needing to say, “This must never be repeated.” It’s not often, though, that it’s necessary to say it less than 30 seconds after such a great moment for a team.

What would you have done if you were Zimmer in this teachable moment? Pulled Diggs from the game? Made an example out of him during the team’s Monday meeting? Fined him?

This was a chance for Zimmer to make sure that no player on his roster ever pulled such a stunt again. As difficult as it often is to truly gauge the effectiveness of a head coach on a team’s win-loss record, one thing about Zimmer will now be completely quantifiable: whether there’s ever another 15-yard penalty for endzone celebrations under his watch. If there’s even one more, it’s an indictment of his generalship.

As for Diggs’ prospects as a leader: This incident didn’t get much play since the Vikings eventually came out on top, and they’ve got the playoffs on their minds—so it’s up to Zimmer to make sure his star receiver doesn’t forget what it means to be a team player and an inspirer of others.