Goodell defends destroying evidence in Spygate scandal

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- In the face of congressional pressure over destroying evidence from the Spygate scandal, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended his actions Friday.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held his annual Super Bowl press conference at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Goodell also said he'd be willing to meet with Sen. Arlen Specter, who sent a letter to the commissioner the previous day asking why tapes shot by the New England Patriots in the cheating scandal were destroyed.

"The reason I destroyed the tapes is they were totally consistent with what the team told me," Goodell said during his State of the NFL speech. "It was the appropriate thing to do and I think it sent a message.

"The actual effectiveness of taping and taking of signals from opponents - it is something done widely in many sports. I think it probably had limited, if any effect, on the outcome of games.

"That doesn't change my perspectve on violating rules and the need to be punished."

NFL security confiscated a video camera and tape from a Patriots employee during New England's 38-14 victory over the New York Jets in the season opener. The employee was accused of aiming his camera at the Jets' defensive coaches as they signaled to players on the field.

Goodell fined Belichick $500,000 and docked the team $250,000 and a first-round draft pick. It was the biggest fine ever for a coach and the first time in NFL history a first-round draft pick has been confiscated as a penalty.

Goodell said there were six tapes, some from 2007 preseason games and the rest from 2006. Another reason he destroyed them was one tape was leaked to the media just after the Patriots-Jets game.

"We wanted to take and destroy that information," he said. "They may have collected it within the rules, but we couldn't determine that. So we felt that it should be destroyed."

Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the issue could put the league's antitrust exemption at risk.

The matter may not compare to the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes, Specter said in a Capitol Hill news conference, but the Pennsylvania senator added, "I do believe that it is a matter of importance. It's not going to displace the stimulus package or the Iraq war, but I think the integrity of football is very important, and I think the National Football League has a special duty to the American people - and further the Congress - because they have an antitrust exemption."

Goodell was asked a half-dozen times about elements of the scandal, which has touched a nerve with nearly everyone who follows the NFL -- particularly with the Patriots at 18-0 and on the verge of the first unbeaten season since 1972.

He made it clear he's convinced the Patriots have acted in good faith since the taping was discovered.

"I think it was the best way to make sure the Patriots followed my instructions, to make sure that bit of information would not appear anywhere again," he said. "If it did, I'd know they didn't hand me all the information. Not having those tapes out there, now I know if something arises, they didn't tell me the truth."

Goodell also announced that the New Orleans Saints will host the San Diego Chargers at Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 26 in the latest international game.

"The reception we got was extraordinary for last year's game (the Giants against the Dolphins), and we're so grateful we're coming back."

He noted that many franchises expressed interest in the London game, perhaps because the Giants played there and are now in the Super Bowl.

The league approved the Buffalo Bills' plan to play a regular-season game in Toronto in each of the next five seasons, plus a preseason game in Canada every other year. Goodell said the Bills' plan "was done thoughtfully to help regionalize the team even more broadly."

That game almost certainly will be in December, after the CFL's Grey Cup has been played.

For the first time in years, the league is considering revamping seedings in the playoffs to assure that more late-season games are meaningful. That could lead to a wild-card team actually hosting a first-round game if it has a better record than the division winner it is meeting.

Goodell admitted concern that some teams had virtually nothing to play for toward the end of the schedule.

"The incentive should be to win as many games as possible," he said. "Last season, I believe there were nine games in the last two weeks when at least one of the teams did not have any impact on the postseason (riding on the outcome)."

Goodell also:

» Indicated there is no timetable for testing of human growth hormone in the NFL. The league has given anti-doping researcher Don Catlin $500,000 to look into an HGH urine test, and also invested $3 million with the USOC to be used for anti-doping research.

"We're not at a point of a widely used test we can be comfortable with," Goodell said. "I don't think there's a significant amount of HGH use, but I have no basis in fact for saying that."

» Was confident the owners and the NFL Players Association can make progress toward extending or revamping the collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2010. Both sides can opt out of the deal in November, which would lead to no salary cap for the 2010 season.

"The labor agreement is critically important to our business, which has changed over recent years," he noted, adding that costs have increased greatly because of stadium construction debt. "That needs to be recognized in the labor agreement and the union has recognized it."

» Noted that violations of the player conduct policy decreased by 20 percent, including a large reduction among rookies. He also emphasized that the league, in the wake of the death of Sean Taylor and three other 24-year-old players, is doing "everything we can to educate players on simple things they can do to protect themselves and their families. They are celebrities."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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