The NFL did not become the gold standard of professional sports by playing fast and loose with its integrity.
Throughout its existence, the league has been incredibly successful in staging the cleanest and fairest game possible -- the sort of game that fans worldwide have trusted enough to view in record numbers on television and in person.
Its handling of the investigation into the New England Patriots' taping of opposing coaches' signals hasn't changed that. Nor has Senator Arlen Specter's repeated public disapproval of how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handled the videotaping scandal or Specter's assertions Wednesday that the league owes the public "a lot more candor and a lot more credibility."
I sincerely commend Specter for caring so deeply about the matter that he wants to subject it to an independent investigation similar to the Mitchell Report on performance enhancing drugs in baseball.
Specter's intentions seem honorable enough. Perhaps government involvement would ultimately be a good thing for all concerned because it would only serve to further diminish even the most remote perception of impropriety.
Yet, I can't help but view it as overkill. I also can't help but believe whatever time and effort the federal government would devote to it could be better spent on more important issues, such as finding a way for people to afford to drive to and from work each day.
A large part of my job is to be in contact with league and club people on a regular basis. To this day, I have received no indication that the NFL was anything but thorough in its investigation of the Patriots' cheating. I have received no indication that Goodell and his staff gave it anything but ample time, attention, and resources.
It would make absolutely no sense for them to approach it any other way.
We're talking about a league that does more than any other to make certain its teams operate on a level playing field. That's why there's a salary cap. That's why there is unrestricted free agency. That's why a team such as the New York Giants can win the Super Bowl rather than their previously unbeaten opponent, the Patriots.
We're talking about a league that constantly reviews and revises its playing rules. A league that hires part-time officials whose reputations are beyond reproach and who have plenty to lose in full-time professions if they were to jeopardize that on or off the field. A league that makes it mandatory for teams to fully disclose player injuries.
Why would it suddenly veer off course and botch something that has been under such close media scrutiny?
And it is no small point that the league made the Pats' wrongdoing public. Before we ever heard the name of Matt Walsh, the Patriots' former video assistant who would become a central figure of the investigation, Goodell and his staff came up with enough incriminating evidence to hit Bill Belichick and the team with $750,000 in fines and take away a first-round draft pick.
Goodell did the right thing in leaving the door open for further sanctions if any additional damaging evidence surfaced. Walsh was supposed to have had such evidence, in the form of a tape of the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough practice the day before facing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He never produced it.
He told Goodell Tuesday that he had no knowledge of its existence. He provided the commissioner with eight tapes of opposing teams' signals that he shot or acquired while working for the team, and their contents, to say the least, offered nothing that Goodell didn't already know the Patriots had done. One coach from one of the eight teams told me the signals on the tape provided no more benefit than what would be gleaned through a pair of binoculars in a coaching booth.
It also is no small point that the Boston Herald, which published a story right before Super Bowl XLII that Walsh had shot the walkthrough and had the tape, issued an apology to the Patriots and their fans in Wednesday's editions. That is commendable, but unprecedented in the newspaper industry. Although it does not absolve the Patriots of any misdeeds, it does reinforce the notion that this was a story that took on a life of its own.
Specter, who met with Walsh Tuesday, continues to question Goodell's decision to destroy videotapes and notes confiscated during the initial investigation in the fall. Goodell's explanation that he wanted to eliminate the possibility of distribution of those tapes during the season, when they could possibly create a competitive disadvantage for other teams, is plausible. To suggest that he had some other motivation or agenda simply makes no sense.
Goodell's oversight covers 32 teams. I know of 31 owners who would not take kindly to the notion that he was going out of his way, putting the league's reputation and prosperity at risk, to benefit one of their partners.
The Patriots' Robert Kraft is a powerful and highly influential owner, but, to take it to an extreme, even he could not protect Goodell if enough of the other owners -- many of whom pack every bit as much power and influence -- formed a consensus to oust the commissioner over their dissatisfaction of the Patriots videotaping case. That isn't going to happen because there is no dissatisfaction.
Specter's comments notwithstanding, it simply makes no sense for the NFL to start doing what it has never done in becoming the gold standard of professional sports -- play fast and loose with its integrity.
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