Spygate not over for angry senator
By: By JOSEPH WHITE, AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hold on, NFL. Spygate isn’t over. Not if the “incensed” Pittsburgh Steelers fan in Congress has anything to do with it.
Sen. Arlen Specter on Wednesday called for an independent investigation of the New England Patriots’ taping of opposing coaches’ signals, possibly similar to the high-profile Mitchell Report on performance enhancing drugs in baseball.
“What is necessary is an objective investigation,” Specter said at a news conference in the Capitol. “And this one has not been objective.”
The Pennsylvania Republican was unforgiving of his criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, saying that Goodell has made “ridiculous” assertions that wouldn’t fly “in kindergarten.” The senator said Goodell was caught in an “apparent conflict of interest” because the NFL doesn’t want the public to lose confidence in the league’s integrity.
“They are enormous role models for everybody,” Specter said. “If you can cheat in the NFL, you can cheat in college, you can cheat in high school, you can cheat on your grade-school math test. There’s no limit as to what you can do. I think they owe the public a lot more candor and a lot more credibility.”
Goodell essentially declared an end to Spygate after a 31/2-hour meeting in New York on Tuesday morning with former New England video assistant Matt Walsh.
Walsh supplied the league with videotapes of coaches’ signals made by the Patriots, but offered no new revelations about the cheating scandal that has threatened to taint the team’s three Super Bowl titles.
Goodell said afterward that the information from the interview with Walsh “was consistent with what we disciplined the Patriots for last fall,” when the commissioner docked the team a 2008 first-round draft pick and fined coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000.
But Specter held his own three-hour meeting with Walsh in Washington on Tuesday. He said Walsh detailed how the Patriots used videotaped signals to their advantage: an offensive player would memorize the signals, watch for them on the sideline and pass them on to assistant coach Charlie Weis.
“And they had some obviously good results,” Specter said.
The NFL released a statement later Wednesday.
“We respectfully disagree with Senator Specter’s characterization of the investigation conducted by our office. We are following up after yesterday’s meeting with Matt Walsh.”
Specter said he would prefer the NFL arrange the independent investigation and was willing to wait several months — while he continues to undergo chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s disease — before calling for Congress to take what he called “corrective action.” Such action could include hearings or a full-blown Mitchell Report-type investigation. He said public reaction would determine the NFL’s next step.
“I would hope that the commissioner would do this on his own,” Specter said.
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the team had no comment on Specter’s remarks.
Earlier Wednesday, the Boston Herald apologized for a story that said the Patriots videotaped a St. Louis Rams walkthrough before the 2002 Super Bowl.
In the apology, published in the newspaper’s Wednesday edition, the Herald said the story was based on sources “it believed to be credible.”
“We now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed,” the paper wrote.
“We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification. The Boston Herald regrets the damage done to the team by publication of the allegation, and sincerely apologizes to its readers and to the New England Patriots’ owners, players, employees and fans for our error.”
Specter repeated his disapproval of Goodell’s decision to destroy the notes and tapes confiscated during the initial investigation last fall, as well as the “piecemeal” way the league has revealed details about the tapings. He also cited the fact a Patriots attorney sat in on Walsh’s meeting with Goodell as proof the investigation has not been impartial.
“That sequence is incomprehensible,” Specter said. “It’s an insult to the intelligence of the people who follow it.”
Specter’s interest in Spygate centers in part on the two NFL teams in his state. The Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2005, the same season in which the Steelers were defeated by New England in the AFC championship game.
Pittsburgh defeated New England earlier that season, and the implication is that taped signals from that game helped the Patriots in the rematch. Steelers chairman Dan Rooney has called the matter a “non-issue.”
“I have a different perspective,” Specter said. “I’m elected by 12 million people., and a lot of them are Steeler fans. … Frankly I’m incensed about what happened with the Steelers, and I’m incensed about the notes being destroyed. I really am.”
Specter was again asked whether his interest in the matter has to do with Philadelphia-based Comcast, one of his largest campaign contributors. Comcast has been involved in a dispute with the league over the placement of the NFL Network on its cable system.
“They have been a campaign contributor,” Specter said, “along with 50,000 other people … I’ve been at this line of work for a long time, and no one has ever questioned my integrity.”
In an interview with HBO scheduled to air Friday night on “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” Walsh dismissed Belichick’s attempts to minimize the impact of the taping.
“If it was of little or no importance, I imagine they wouldn’t have continued to do it, and probably not taken the chances of going down onto the field in Pittsburgh or shooting from other teams’ stadiums the way we did,” Walsh said.
Walsh told HBO that his superiors coached him on how to evade NFL rules limiting the number of camera operators per team to two, and that team officials instructed him on ways to avoid detection.
Walsh also talked about Belichick’s claim that he misinterpreted NFL rules.
“When I was doing it, I understood what we were doing to be wrong,” Walsh said. “We went to great lengths to keep from being caught. Just saying that the rules were misinterpreted isn’t enough of an apology or a reasoning for what was done. …
“Coach Belichick’s explanation for having misinterpreted the rules, to me, that really didn’t sound like taking responsibility for what we had done, especially considering the great lengths that we had gone through to hide what we were doing.”
AP Sports Writers Rachel Cohen in New York and Howard Ulman in Foxborough, Mass., contributed to this report.