Signals, Lies and Video Tape


I asked myself just prior to the Super Bowl why in the world would Senator Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, want to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?  The Spygate issue was dead, wasn’t it?  Afterall, wrong-doing was admitted, fines were levied against the guilty parties and a draft pick was forfeited.

But the issue wasn’t dead.  The Senator from Pennsylvania learned that the league had destroyed the tapes.  Further, there was evidence that cheating had taken place well before the incident this year in the Pats-Jets game.

Today, after a 1 hour 40 minute meeting between Specter and Goodell, some interesting facts were made public:

–  Commissioner Goodell admitted to destroying the tapes seized from the Patriots containing the defensive signals of other teams.  (Yes, we said TEAMS as in plural.)

–  Senator Specter was informed by the Commish that Bill Belichick’s taping of defensive signals dated back as far as the 2000 season.

–  Mr. Goodell has no regrets about destroying the evidence.

–  Bill Belichick isn’t aware of the rules.

–  Matt Walsh, a Patriots’ video assistant, has received a proposal that would preclude him from any formal legal issues with the league or the Pats.  Walsh will also have to return any material he took from the team (we’re guessing tapes) and must be truthful.  (According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN)

All of this information now public, it certainly raises some questions among those of us participating in the NFL blogosphere and fans of the game.  In fact, it should be cause for concern among those within the tight-lipped NFL fraternity.

The first question that most NFL fans will and should be asking is natural – Just how much cheating has gone on with the Pats?  The league wants us all to believe that the issue is closed.  The Commissioner has gone on record saying that the league will reopen the investigation if more evidence becomes available.

How much evidence was there last fall when the league fined New England and Belichick?  Did they know then that the team had been taping signals since 2000 or did they only receive information and tapes of the game versus the Jets?  If the information received then by the league covered not only the Jets game but all wrong-doing that dated back to 2000, did they react properly when handing out punishment?

If NFL fans are to believe that $750,000 worth of fines and the loss of a single draft pick are enough punishment for seven seasons of cheating then the NFL will have to up the sales pitch.  They have yet to tell us how many times the outcome of a game has been impacted because of this practice by the belicose Belichick.  More importantly, the league only admitted last fall that signals were taped in a single game.  They never mentioned any other games in previous seasons…until recently.

What should truly draw the ire of fans, media and members of the outsiders group (the blogosphere) is the cavalier attitude witnessed Thursday from Goodell when asked about the destruction of the evidence.  “I have nothing to hide.  I think it was the right thing to do,” Goodell said.

Can someone please check the Commissioner’s background and confirm for me that he wasn’t a used car salesman in a previous life?  If I or any NFL fan is to buy this lemon, then he expects us to buy pretty much anything.  If the league has nothing to hide, why did they destroy the tapes?  They tell us that they didn’t want them to fall into the hands of other teams.

I must agree with Senator Specter here.  He was obviously questioning the league for destroying the evidence when he said, “There was an enormous amount of haste.”  When the issue of the material falling into the hands of other teams was brought up, the Senator scoffed, “”What’s that got to do with it? There’s an admission of guilt, you preserve the evidence.  All you have to do is lock up the tapes.”

And what would be wrong with locking up the tapes?  It’s certainly not as if other teams are going to be filling out a library card at league headquarters so they can sign out the tapes.  Besides, if they already know that those tapes were acquired by use of illegal means I’d doubt seriously that they would want to be caught with a copy they burned onto a DVD or to their PC’s or laptops.

I’m not trying to ring the conspiracy bell here.  But the evidence now against the league, and not just the Patriots, is that they would prefer to make this just go away, to disappear.  I’m certain they would prefer that the fans rest easy about this.  There is no way they want the fan base to have the idea that any game was won by means of less than honest competition.  Remember, this could impact SIX SEASONS of Pats’ games.  And just how many Super Bowl outcomes could this include?  You get the picture.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, allegations have been levied that the Patriots taped the Rams’ walk through practice prior to the Super Bowl in 2002.  This isn’t some fly-by-night individual who is making this statement either.  By all accounts, this is coming from Matt Walsh, a former Patriots employee.

The evidence is pretty clear that some cheating was going on but the main offender, Bill Belichick, told Goodell that he didn’t believe that taping signals was illegal.  Really?  Last fall, the Commissioner made it clear that this practice was, in fact, illegal.  Would a rule like this one not be found in the rule book?  Are NFL coaches kept in the dark about the rules?  I doubt it.

Walsh becomes the central figure here too.  His statements have been interesting to say the least.  It might be naive and even irresponsible to believe that what Walsh says isn’t accurate considering that the league has already reached a legal agreement with him to return all materials he has in his possession he obtained while with the Patriots.  Senator Specter also wants to meet with the former New England employee.  This further adds weight to what he knows about this scandal.

What is at the core of this, besides just cheating and its impact on some games, is the antitrust exemption that has been bestowed on the league.  Congress can step in here and take that away if they feel that the league isn’t being run fairly.  There is a lot of money involved – public money.  Too many teams are currently playing in stadiums that were funded partially or completely with public money.  That alone makes this an issue that they will be willing to investigate further.  It’s a near certainty that lawmakers will be interested in knowing that the league is clean before they let this matter go.

The Congress, and the fans, will be demanding answers and, frankly, they are entitled to it.

I’m sure that I’ll be accused of either piling on or of beating a dead horse here.  But there simply are too many questions yet to be answered in this melodrama that is playing out.  But as a fan of NFL football, and this can be said of all us who want the facts, we agree with what the Senator from Pennsylvania said today, “We have a right to have honest football games.”

With the rising costs of attending an NFL event, Commissioner Goodell at least owes us the truth.  And it’s only when we get to hear the truth that we’ll be sure that what we are watching is the NFL and not the WWE.