Friday, September 14, 2007


I know "Belichickgate" doesn't roll off the tongue, and "Videogate" isn't specific enough, but "Patriotgate"?

And does every "scandal" have to have "-gate" on the end of it? I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that the break-in happened in Washington instead of here, because that would be just awkward to explain to the kids.

Anyway, the name might be stupid, but the story was quite interesting. If you didn't hear, and I'm not sure how you could have pulled that off (after all, I was in Green Bay, and I heard even when I wasn't trying), the New England Patriots apparently employed some intern or whatever to videotape the Jets' sideline coaches sending hand signals out onto the field.

The Jets' security team, clearly made aware of this tactic having been used in the past, caught the offending employee, confiscated the camera, and sent it to the league office. The league found enough evidence in that camera to fine the Patriots organization $250,000, take away their first-round pick in next year's draft (second- and third-rounders should a miracle happen and the Patriots miss the playoffs), and the league also slapped the maximum $500,000 fine on head coach Bill Belichick.

Since then, the media has predictably had a field day with this story, and more stories of its ilk have come out. Other teams had experienced strange happenings while playing the Patriots, and none of them thought enough of what happened to inform the league about it. Matt Millen of Detroit said it best when he told Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman, "You never know for sure. And if you don't know it at the time, you don't feel right reporting it later."

To me, this isn't about what happened to other teams. The league needs to look into potential issues involving headsets, because we have heard nothing of these problems at other stadiums. If it's happening at Foxborough and nowhere else, it needs to be looked at very carefully.

What this is about also isn't the legacy of Belichick or Tom Brady or Charlie Weis or Robert Kraft or anyone else with the Patriots. It's not that I don't think anything of these questions. Instead, I don't think they're valid right now. These aren't the issues that you bring up in the week after a story like this breaks. They are the issues that we bring up once we know everything there is to know about the story. We don't know everything right now. In fact, we might not know much of anything.

I'm worried right now about the game's integrity, as is the commissioner. While some may say he didn't act harshly enough, I do think he took a huge step here. The punishment is not a light one, and it comes to one of the league's true signature franchises. I have no problem with it, because only a forfeit would have been more severe (I am not in the camp that believes a suspension of Belichick would have accomplished much, because it wouldn't have), and the Patriots weren't forfeiting a game they won 38-14 even if it was proven that they played with 12 guys on the field on every play.

In looking at what happened, I see a few indisputable points:
  • The Patriots violated a league rule.
  • The Patriots had been directly warned about this particular rule.
  • The Patriots have done this before. If you believe that they just happened to get caught the first time they did something like this, then I'd like some of what you're smoking.
  • Jets head coach Eric Mangini had some clue that the Patriots were doing this, likely from his time there as an assistant.
  • Mangini should have reported what he knew to the league office long before it came to this.
If you believe this has never happened before, you're crazy. I guess there are some who believe that a person's first drunk-driving arrest signifies the first time they ever drove drunk. But I tend to think that's usually wrong.

Along similar lines, if you believe that this tarnishes the legacy of the franchise all by itself, you're also crazy. I mean, do you honestly think this hurts the legitimacy of every game this team has ever won? Don't you think they would have had the whistle blown on them at some point if it was really that well-known and common of a practice? What does it say about the NFL when a team can do this, possibly for years, and get away with it until one of their former assistant coaches gets the guts to say something?

Listen, I respect the Patriots and Belichick, but the bottom line is that they deliberately and knowingly broke NFL regulations and got caught. The "Everyone else is doing it" line doesn't work. The "We didn't think we were breaking the rules" line doesn't work. Neither does "It's not that big of a deal". If the league asks teams to avoid using a particular brand of tape or glove, and a team gets caught defying the request, it's a big deal. You do what you're asked, and you stop doing what you're asked to stop. It's not a time to try to skate by on "interpretation of the rule". That's an excuse, and a bad one at that.

It's similar to the athlete that says "I didn't know that what I was taking contained a banned substance". The body is a temple for these guys. They know what they're putting in it, and they're lying if they say they don't. They don't eat a bowl of cereal without checking first.

Belichick is in the same mold. If you think for one second that he's authorizing behavior that might be in direct violation of NFL rules without knowing that the league might be mad if they catch it, you're an apologist for the guy. Belichick and his coaches don't do anything without knowing first if it's legal by league rules. For that matter, no self-respecting NFL coach would do that.

Patriots fans, I have some simple advice for you. Your team cheated, and they got caught and punished rather severely for it. The sooner you can deal with these indisputable facts, rather than allowing yourself to get caught up in some PR garbage, the better.

This isn't about the Jets, Mangini, the Chargers, Lions, Bengals, Mike Martz, Tony Dungy, or anyone else not involved with the Patriots. Trying to make it about the "whiners on the outside" only makes your case look weak.

I guarantee that the Patriots organization will handle this aftermath better than their fans do.

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