By Ron Borges
On the matter of Spygate, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has changed his story more times than John Kerry changes his mind.
First, it was nothing. Now it’s quite something. First “we’’ discovered it, then the Jets discovered it. First the Patriots “admitted it.’’ Then he remembered the Jets had a videotape of it before anyone admitted it so that probably made denying it a little difficult, even for Bill Belichick.
First we want to talk with Matt Walsh. Then we want to accuse him of being a thief, a rogue and a generally unsavory character and so we send an ex-FBI agent to try and prove it. After which we tell him we really do just want to talk.
First, we never got a letter from Sen. Arlen Specter. Oops, then I guess we did. And on and on this has gone.
The latest on Spygate seems to once again involve interesting timing, as this matter has from the start. Just as word is leaked that the NFL and Walsh’s high-priced Washington attorney are close to finalizing a deal that would allow the former Patriot videographer to tell what, if anything, he knows about Patriotic espionage in Foxborough, the Boston Globe comes out with a lengthy, one-sided indictment of Walsh’s character. This included such shocking revelations as: he inflated his resume and once got mad enough at his college roommate for using his bed to entertain his girl friend that he put a blender blade in it to convince them to cease and desist whatever activities were going on above, or below, his sheets. Did they mention he used to throw the daily paper into the hedge instead of onto the front stoop on his paper route as well? And, less we forget, he allegedly got fired by the Patriots for surreptitiously audiotaping his boss, Scott Pioli, during a meeting in which Pioli was being critical of Walsh’s job performance in the scouting department.
After reading this “month-long investigation,’’ several thoughts came immediately to mind. First, they put more time and effort into looking into Walsh than they ever did looking into the questions he allegedly is going to raise. Second, reporter Bob Hohler could have written an equally unflattering indictment of Bill Belichick, raising similarly extraneous issues that might call his credibility into question. I believe an unnamed former colleague of Walsh’s termed him a “loose cannon.’’ Well, didn’t the former president of the New York Jets, Steve Gutman, question Belichick’s sanity eight years ago? So what?
One could find a host of present and former Jets’ front office employees who vehemently believe Bill Belichick stole $1 million from the late Leon Hess, Jets’ owner at the time, claiming Hess allegedly gave it to him as a ransom to remain an assistant under Bill Parcells and then take over when Parcells left coaching. When Parcells left the sidelines a year later, Belichick left for Foxborough…with the money. At least that’s what they’ll tell you. So if this is a credibility argument there’s plenty of fodder to heap on both sides it seems.
The Globe apparently forgot it also has “guidelines’’ about the use of anonymous quotes. One is that they never be used to slander someone because who knows what ax the anonymous fellow or lady might have to grind. So what was the name again on the first quote in the Walsh article about being “a loose cannon?’’ “Anonymous.’’ So much for guidelines.
The article also mentions for no apparent reason that after leaving pro football Walsh, at 26 as is pointed out, took a job as a bag boy at a golf course on Cape Cod. The article adds this is a job normally done by high school and college students. So what?
If that’s significant, what does that make a college grad like Eric Mangini, when he decided to use his college education from Wesleyan to serve as a ballboy for, of all people, Bill Belichick, in Cleveland? And what does that make another Wesleyan grad named Bill Belichick when, after graduating from one of the top schools in the country, he chooses to work for room and board and then $25 a week for the Colts as a driver and gofer for then head coach Ted Marchibroda?
What it makes all three of them is young guys who decided to accept as low a job as there is to get into a business they thought they might like. According to the evidence it worked well for all three. The first two became million-dollar NFL head coaches and less than five years after Walsh took that bag job he was the assistant golf pro at one of the most luxurious golf resorts on Maui. Maybe being a bag boy was worth it since it led him to what he wanted on an island many people would call paradise?
So what we now know from this month-long ‘’investigation” is that Matt Walsh claims to have pertinent information on Patriotic espionage and 13 years ago was involved in a college prank that WEEI Monday tried to make sound like a knife attack. If his apparently lascivious roommate and his girl friend stayed off Walsh’s bed they never would have known what was under the sheets in the first place, would they? Regardless, what does that prove about whether or not he knows something about the Patriots’ videotaping practices under Bill Belichick?
The larger question remains. What is the hold up in making a deal with Walsh that both sides can live with and that frees him from possible legal action from the Patriots, the NFL or some as yet unnamed person (Ernie Adams? Ernie Adams? Ernie Adams?)?Goodell has been all over the place with this thing, at one point indicating the whole matter was blown out of proportion and then last week asking for Draconian powers to sweep into any team’s locker room, coaches boxes, sidelines etc. to search for evidence of cheating. Which is it? No problem or big problem? Only Roger knows for sure.
Which brings us back to the questioning of Matt Walsh. If the NFL really believes it is important to talk to him (which it is, regardless of whether he has what he implies he has or not because either way it either clears the Patriots or cleans out a nasty stench more than a few opposing coaches have privately complained about for years in New England) then talk to him. Give him the Brian McNamee deal – no problems as long as you tell the truth - and make clear that someone from the Patriots simply saying, “Oh no we didn’t’’ doesn’t qualify as proof that Walsh is lying.
That done, let him speak and let the public decide, a full airing being the best disinfectant in this whole mess. As for Goodell, the more he talks the more you wonder how deeply this cheating scandal goes.
The Commissioner is now proposing that the league require club owners, general managers, and coaches to certify annually that their team does not cheat and hasn’t broken the NFL’s anti-espionage rules. He wants the power to level greater penalties for teams that circumvent those rules. So one minute he says it’s all been taken care of so let’s move on and the next he’s sending out a memo last Thursday to members of the Competition Committee which was immediately leaked to the Washington Post (must mean it wasn’t the New York Times’ turn to be fed by the league office or else someone on Park Avenue remembered Specter’s office just happens to be in Washington) asking for enhanced powers to pursue cheaters where ever they may reside.
That’s the same Competition Committee whose members said last month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis after being briefed by Goodell that Spygate was a dead issue. So which is it?
“As the commissioner and the Competition Committee, we must take every appropriate step to safeguard the integrity of the NFL,” Goodell wrote. “We have already taken some positive and significant actions this past season, but we must go further to ensure fair competition amongst our 32 teams and maintain public confidence in our game.”
Goodell went on to say he wanted the league to keep closer tabs on its teams’ cheating, including having the power to spot check unannounced locker rooms, press boxes, coaches’ booths, the coach-to-QB communication systems and any other in-stadium communication. Why all that if the Spygate matter was no big deal?
John Mara, co-owner of the Giants and a Competition Committee member, later told the Globe he didn’t think “everybody was cheating at all’’ but he did assume some teams other than the Patriots probably had in the past. He emphasized he did not think it was “rampant’’ however and added, “”We’re all satisfied that it was handled appropriately and the punishment was meted out. We don’t think it’s happening anymore. To keep dragging it up and talking about it is kind of ridiculous.’’
Then why is the Commissioner asking for an enhancement of rules against cheating and the authority to bust into any coaches booth or locker room without warning if there’s no reason on Earth to do so?
Of course, if you’d asked him a week before the revelations about the Patriots if anyone was cheating in the NFL or if he needed enhanced powers to prevent video and audio cheating around the league, Goodell would very likely have said “That’s ridiculous,’’ which is why the NFL looks more and more ridiculous with each new announcement.
In the end we may never know the extent of what has gone on in Foxborough or elsewhere around the NFL but what we can assume is this much effort wouldn’t have been put into cover ups and character assassinations if there was nothing to the charges. Generally in professional sports, where there’s smoke there’s fire and where there’s frantic disassembling and reassembling of the “facts’’ it’s usually because the real facts aren’t too pretty.