By Ron Borges
Give credit to Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick. They stood up for themselves this week in Florida and also stood up for the good of the game that has made them both famous.
When the Patriots’ owner and his head coach rose at the annual NFL owners’ meetings in Palm Beach, FL. and apologized to their peers for their roles in creating an embarrassing situation for the league with Cameragate they did the right thing. Regardless of whether or not they believe they have been unfairly treated by the media or the league, they put their game, which is also America’s game, ahead of themselves.
Belichick continued to insist he didn’t know the gun was loaded, still claiming he misinterpreted the rule in question even though a memo from NFL Vice-President Ray Anderson in 2006 couldn’t have been misinterpreted by a moron, which the HC of the NEP is not, because it was written in a way as to provide coaches no wiggle room on the subject of filming opposing team’s signals from the sidelines. But that is a small thing. The larger issue is that he did what had to be done, which was acknowledge his role in an incident that not only embarrassed his owner, his players and his game, but also put their legacy, and his own, in jeopardy.
Belichick may still feel he needs to pick this nit because he feels he wasn’t doing anything that hadn’t been done before but the larger fact is he rose in a room full of his peers, as did Kraft, and told them he made a mistake, which could not have been easy. He told them he should have checked with Anderson about the rule and if he had he would not have done what he did. So be it.
Kraft, who had nothing to do with this except to own the train when the wreck happened, gave an impassioned speech by all accounts about his love for the game and the importance of maintaining its integrity. More importantly, he expressed his own remorse and embarrassment over his team’s actions in illegally filming the New York Jets’ defensive signals last September and assured nothing like that would happen again.
Their words so moved the other coaches and owners present that one of their chief rivals, Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jimmy Irsay, said, “You can’t keep punishing someone over and over. To me they showed class. It was unsolicited and certainly heartfelt.’’
It was also the right thing to do, as was their strong insistence the past few days that no one from their organization ever ordered filming of the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl XXXVI walkthrough practice the day before the game or watched it if such a tape exists.
Kraft was adamant that former videographer Matt Walsh was never asked to sign a confidentiality agreement after he was fired and that he should come forward with whatever information he thinks he has about past practices by the Patriots. Clearly Kraft believes there is nothing new in whatever Walsh might say or possess and he forcefully made that clear. Right or wrong, good for him.
Belichick did the same, reiterating at the annual breakfast with the media on Tuesday morning what he told the Globe’s Mike Reiss a month ago, which was that he never ordered such a taping to occur nor did he ever watch tape of an opponents practice in his 34 years as a coach. You can’t get much more definitive than that. If something else comes out to contradict him, Belichick left himself only marginal wiggle room.
Now the ball is in the court of Walsh, who Commissioner Roger Goodell’s attorneys continue to negotiate with over an agreement that would allow him to tell what he knows while not opening himself up to legal risk.
Many have criticized the length of time this has taken and argued that if Walsh had any more damaging information it would have appeared by now. Kraft made that case emphatically this week and perhaps he’s right.
Then again, the history of what befalls whistleblowers in America is a sordid one. Most end up broke and broken, their reputations and their finances in tatters. That Walsh and his attorney, Michael Levy, are seeking to avoid that fate is hardly duplicitous. It’s smart business.
Yet one can also understand Goodell’s peevishness over the pace of these negotiations. As he stated Tuesday, “At some point I will run out of patience.’’ This is both fair and true but so too are Walsh’s concerns if he in fact has anything of real import to add to the situation.
League laywer Jeff Pash followed Goodell’s comments by saying in a more conciliatory way, “We’re having a good dialogue. We’re making progress. Walsh feels he’s in uncharted waters and wants to feel comfortable when he comes forward.’’
Protecting himself from liability is one thing, waiting until he feels “comfortable’’ is quite another because in a situation like this Matt Walsh is never going to feel comfortable. He has challenged the character of the most successful team in the most successful sports league in America, hinting that he has some deep, dark secret to tell.
Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick obviously believe otherwise, as they made clear this week, but they also showed an understanding that what had already happened was bad enough. It required they do a difficult thing and they did it in front of their peers. They apologized for the embarrassment the entire incident caused the NFL. For that they deserve much credit.
As for Matt Walsh, it’s time for him to do a difficult thing as well – apologize for popping off in the first place and end this matter for good or come forward and tell what he knows.