By Ron Borges
First it was stolen hand signals. Then it was destruction of evidence. Now it’s filming closed practice sessions and open denials. Where does it all stop? Maybe not where the NFL and the Patriots’ would like it to stop.
“Spygate II, The Encore’’ has not yet jumped the tracks on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick but it’s starting to careen out of their control and if that continues that is where the real problems could begin.
To this point, Goodell has unwisely treated this as the NFL treats most things – as a PR problem. He says he acted swiftly when the first charges were leveled at Belichick for cheating, although we now have learned he acted so swiftly that he fined him four days BEFORE the Patriots had produced the notes and tapes he was seeking. How do you mete out your punishment before you know what was done?
“Did they know the scope of the wrongdoing before the penalty was imposed?’’ asks Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. “The answer is no.’’
Then, it turns out, Goodell had his minions, including an attorney who should have known better named Jeff Pash, destroy the evidence while they were still in Foxboro, a move Goodell still defends as “the right thing to do.’’ How is destroying evidence ever the right thing to do?
That action now calls into question the alleged “leaking’’ of a portion of one of those tapes to FOX-TV news maven Jay Glazer. At the time, Goodell was supposedly outraged at the leak. A witch hunt was launched netting no culprit. Yet now we learn the tapes were actually destroyed by Pash and NFL vice-president Ray Anderson while they were in Foxboro at the instruction of Goodell. What that means, if Goodell is now to be believed, is that either the Patriots leaked it to make themselves look foolish or Goodell’s associates did it because if they destroyed the tapes in Foxboro as he now says, no one else would have had access to them to leak them.
It seems a safe bet it wasn’t Belichick who leaked them to Glazer so who did? If Goodell is telling the truth it had to be either Pash, Anderson, the commissioner himself or one of his underlings because, according to Goodell’s story, no one else would have ever had their hands on them because they never got to New York.
Or did they?
No wonder Sen. Specter said of Goodell’s explanation last week, “The words absurd and ridiculous keep coming to my mind because he says it with a straight face.’’
What Goodell keeps saying are the kinds of things you say when you don’t have the high ground. He says, for example, that no one wants to talk with Matt Walsh, the Patriots’ former videographer who claims to have tapes and other information on the cheating scandal, more than he does yet he refuses to grant him the kind of immunity from a previously signed confidentiality agreement with the Patriots that would fully protect Walsh once Belichick said the simplest thing, like “He’s lying.’’
Having read both the league’s offer and the one proposed by Walsh’s attorney it is clear the NFL has no intention of providing Walsh with real immunity because as written all the Patriots have to do is what Belichick did in Monday’s Boston Globe and deny his allegations. After that the NFL’s “immunity’’ deal would not protect Walsh from the team suing him.
The simple, and larger, fact is this: if the league really wanted to talk with Walsh and the Patriots are so sure they have nothing to fear why not ask owner Robert Kraft to release Walsh from the non-disclosure agreement he was forced to sign when he was let go?
“Matt Walsh is an important guy and they have made it (the limited immunity deal) so conditional,’’ Specter told ESPN.com. “All they have to do is say, ‘We’re not going to sue you.’ It’s not a big deal.’’
If it is a big deal maybe Goodell should ask the Patriots why? While he’s at it, he might also ask why an employee so low on the organizational totem pole that Belichick told the Globe he couldn’t identify him in a lineup was forced to sign such an agreement in the first place? Eric Mangini didn’t have to and he quite obviously knew where at least one body was buried since he’s the guy who got this ball rolling in the first place.
When Specter asked the commissioner why a former FBI agent now working in league security named Dick Farley was allegedly investigating Walsh’s background at the same time the league claimed it wanted so desperately for him to come forward and cooperate, he admitted Farley worked for the NFL but, according to Specter, then told the Senator, “We didn’t know he was investigating him.’’
What is this the LAPD? You got employees destroying evidence in an investigation before you’ve seen it and a rogue investigator out digging into Walsh’s background without your permission and you, as high commissioner, don’t know anything about it?
Let us return to Sen. Specter’s point of view, “The words absurd and ridiculous keep coming to my mind because he says it with a straight face.’’
Rumors have been circulating of late that part of what the Patriots turned over was evidence of other team’s cheating ways as well as their own and that when Goodell heard about it he panicked and ordered all tapes and notes be destroyed. Why would he do that? Follow the money.
Perhaps because the league’s broadcasting contracts with its various television partners allegedly stipulate that the competition on the field must be real. If one team is illegally taping an opponent’s defensive signals or its practices to gain an unfair advantage over another, what does that say about the integrity of the competition? Goodell doesn’t know but he doesn’t want to be asked about it by lawyers for NBC, FOX or ESPN.
Belichick did come out Monday and emphatically deny ever having ordered or watched a tape of an opponent’s walkthrough, as Walsh allegedly claims he filmed the day before Super Bowl XXXVI, telling the Globe, “In my entire coaching career, I’ve never seen another team’s practice film prior to playing that team. I have never authorized, or heard of, or even seen in any way, shape, or form any other team’s walkthrough. We don’t even film our own. We don’t even want to see ourselves do anything, that’s the pace that it’s at. Regardless, I’ve never been a part of that.”
Later in that same article the rule in question was quoted and explained thusly: “The rule states: “Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game.”
Later the article said, “Belichick felt the Patriots’ actions were in compliance with NFL rules saying, “My interpretation was that you can’t utilize anything to assist you during that game. What our camera guys do is clearly not allowed to be used during the game and has never been used during that game that it was shot.”
Belichick went on to say, “I respect the integrity of the game and always have and always will. I regret that any of this, or to whatever extent it has in any way brought that into question or discussion or debate. The decision was made by the commissioner, the practice was immediately stopped, and we’re not doing it.
“Just going back over the whole taping incident, if I contacted the league and asked them about the practice, I’m sure they would have told me - as they have done - that it is not permissible. Then I could have avoided all of this.’’
Only one problem, they did. How he and the Globe forgot that is anyone’s guess but let us look at two salient points.
First, the rules on game day videotaping also state that: “…all video for coaching purposes must be shot from locations “ENCLOSED ON ALL SIDES WITH A ROOF OVERHEAD.”
How could Belichick mistakenly have thought there was a roof over the head of the guy he had doing that taping on the sidelines? Perhaps if he was in a domed stadium he might have been able to “misinterpart” that part of the rule as well but he was not, unless something has changed at Giants Stadium that we are not aware of.
Belichick also says if he’d asked the league they would have told him what he was doing was illegal and he “could have avoided all of this.’’ Well, unfortunately for his argument, they did.
Or did he misremember the memo sent to all head coaches and general managers on Sept. 6 that re-emphasized the videotaping rules for the sole purpose of avoiding just such a denial.
In that memo, Anderson, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, wrote: “Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited ON THE SIDELINES, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room or at any other locations accessible to club staff members DURING THE GAME.”
What’s to misinterpret? Was he thinking, “We’re so much better than the Jets, I didn’t think it was really going to be much of a game?’’
If someone can read that memo from Anderson and the full rules on videotaping and still utter what Belichick is quoted saying in the Globe then one has to wonder about the veracity of the rest of his denial.
Belichick said if he’d called and asked the league they would have told him it wasn’t legal and he wouldn’t have done it. Fine, but the inconvenient fact is they wrote him a letter WITHOUT HIM CALLING TO ASK and told him it was illegal and he did it any way. Yet he’s still arguing on Monday that it was merely a misinterpretation.
Which brings us back to Sen. Specter’s quite prescient comment on most everything about the handling of this matter to date: “The words absurd and ridiculous keep coming to my mind because he says it with a straight face.’’