Only weeks after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell voiced his growing displeasure at the length of time it was taking to come to an agreement with Spygate whistle blower Matt Walsh, a deal was finally reached this week and on May 13 Walsh will at last tell Goodell what he knows, or thinks he knows, about how the Patriots have done their business during the creation of the first pro football dynasty of the new Millennium.
The Patriots issued a prepared statement that they were “pleased’’ Walsh was finally coming forward. There is no truth to the rumor it was written by Pinocchio but it was like saying they’d pleased to get an audit letter from the IRS so they could straighten out a misconception or two about their finances.
As for Goodell, he’s about as “pleased’’ that Walsh is stirring up this unsavory mess once again as he was having to lift a No. 1 draft pick from a team owned by not only one of his benefactors during his battle to win the job from retiring Paul Tagliabue but also one of the men who sits on the committee that decides his compensation package.
But there is no getting around this now, neither by the Patriots, the NFL or Walsh, who has hinted about the dark deeds he claims to have knowledge of during his employment in New England’s video and personnel departments without having yet made a single public charge.
Goodell would like nothing better than to be able to come out of that meeting saying, “Nothing new here, folks’’ and moving on but unless that is truly the case he will not find that as easy as he found it destroying the original videos confiscated from the Patriots’ film archives of opposing team’s defensive signals.
He made that clear when he told a collection of sports editors from around the country that if Walsh indeed had a tape of the St. Louis Rams walk-through practice the day before Super Bowl XXXVI someone’s head would roll and it would not be his or Walsh’s.
That statement surprised some but he said it (though he’s praying he won’t have to back it up) because he knows he will be closely watched by Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter as well as by many NFL teams who have something less than charitable feelings toward the Patriots in general and head coach Bill Belichick in particular.
Walsh is already schedule to fly to Washington and meet with Specter and his investigators after he meets with Goodell in New York so any thought of a cover-up, if one is necessary, is all but impossible now.
But what may prove to be more important than it originally appeared was a passing reference to “alleged audio taping’’ Walsh may have done of his one-time boss, Patriots’ personnel guru Scott Pioli. Oddly, it was Pioli himself who first made knowledge of these taped phone conversations public when he went on the offensive with the Boston Globe a month or so ago, claiming Walsh was fired for illegally and surreptitiously tape recording one or more of his conversations.
Beyond the fact it’s illegal in Massachusetts to tape a conversation without the prior agreement of both sides, not much has been made of this yet but the fact the indemnification agreement specifically spoke to that issue and seemed to offer protection to Walsh from the Patriots or the league going after him for doing so (which by the way probably doesn’t protect him from the state going after him) it makes you wonder what might have been said that shouldn’t have been said.
The botched manner in which Pioli and the Patriots tried to pressure Deion Branch into firing his agent as a requirement for signing a new deal is the reason New England had to agree to trade him to Seattle because had they not they would have lost in arbitration and also been subject to forced depositions that could have been embarrassing to them and at least one of Branch’s teammates. If that’s any example of how Pioli does his business who knows what Walsh might have on tape?
None of that has anything to do with illegal video taping of the kind alleged in the Boston Herald on the eve of last February’s Super Bowl however, when the paper reported a source claiming the Patriots had illegally taped a final walk through practice of the St. Louis Rams the day before Super Bowl XXXVI. Some NFL observers believe such a tape exists and Walsh shot it. The Patriots have tried to cover themselves in all ways, saying it was never shot and then saying, well, if it was we had nothing to do with it. So which was it? It never existed or Walsh did it but we never asked him to?
Those are two of many questions Walsh will hopefully finally shed some light on. Whether any of this becomes public will be up to Goodell, Walsh, Specter and the truth, although the latter is too often the least important of the factors that go into such matters.
Case in point: Goodell and the NFL claimed to be outraged that a snippet of the video of Jets’ defensive coaches’ hand signals ended up in the hands of FOX-TV’s Jay Glazer. Later we find out all the tapes were destroyed in Foxborough and never even brought back to the commissioner’s office by two of Goodell’s henchmen.
If so, then who could have leaked the tape to Fox? It would seem difficult to conclude it was anyone but the people claiming to be outraged. If you find this difficult to believe, remember Pres. Bush pounding the podium about how he was going to find out who leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame to the media. Who’d it turn out to be? His own vice-president’s hand maiden, Scooter Libby.
So it goes in any high stakes business. The truth gets perverted and twisted beyond recognition. Whatever the truth is in this case that could certainly happen once again but Roger Goodell no longer has certain options formally available to him.
First, there’s no destroying the evidence this time per the agreement with Walsh, whose attorney gets to keep copies of some of the items Walsh will provide and access to the rest.
Second, everyone is watching now and many people with a very skeptical eye toward the way Goodell does his business.
Third, unless Matt Walsh is a suicidal maniac he at least believes he has something more damning about the Patriots’ past practices than what has already come out. If he does, nothing will keep the lid on that bottle for long.
Hopefully, regardless of how it ends, this is the final stage of what has been a sad circumstance in which players and an organization that has achieved so much have been left tainted by their own actions and the innuendo of a former employee.