Lets get this out of the way first -Bill Belichick and the Patriots broke the rules. There is no disputing that. They were punished for it.
Yes, I’m trying to put this all behind me, but I think it’s important to review just how disgraceful the behaviour of national media was during this whole episode, and attempt to put as much of it on the record as I can here.
I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given the news/sports climate in which we live, one that is dominated by sensationalism, exaggeration, rush to judgement and opinion. But things really got out of hand with this one. Let’s review a few of the ways:
The myopic media have chosen to focus solely on the sensationalistic aspects of this case, right from the beginning.
Whether or not this was really a major rules violation that garnered a significant advantage is not the point. THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS CHEATED AND ALL THEIR CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE NOW TAINTED. That’s the message that has been sent out, and that which has been pounded repeatedly into the conscious of the American public.
The implication has been that the taping of signals is the golden lamp which when rubbed, automatically ensures victory. They insist that the advantage gained by these tapes is the single most important factor (even if some faint voices say otherwise) in the Patriots success this decade.
Never mind that the stealing of signals has been going on in all sports almost from the beginning. Never mind that other teams have been caught doing the same or worse. Ignore all of that.
Ignore this statement:
You know who wrote that?
The one and only Gregg Easterbrook. (On February 3, 2008)
Yeah, the same guy now advocating a lifetime ban of Belichick.
For a “minor violation of the rules.”
Nothing has changed since that day, in fact, the Patriots position has improved, as the notion of the walkthrough video has been dismissed. The Boston Heraldand John Tomase have apologized for putting out this false information. Yet now Easterbrook wants the lifetime ban?
They’ve also shown that just because something has already been reported, it doesn’t mean you can’t write it again and shout from the rooftops that there is a new angle.
One of the prominent figures of this whole saga has been ESPN “investigative reporter” Mike Fish. For someone billed as an investigative reporter, I haven’t seen this guy yet bring something of value to the table. You’d think an investigative reporter would…you know…investigate. He would look into all aspects of a story, uncover new facts, perhaps expand the scope of the story to include other teams and their practices, to see if what the Patriots did was really out of line with what other teams were doing to get an edge.
Nope. He’s been solely focused on the Patriots. He hands in pieces like this, which have absolutely no new information whatsoever.
I’m tempted to dub him Mike Fishwrap, but that would be an insult to paper that is actually used to wrap dead fish.
Ready, Fire, Aim.
This will somehow get blamed on the internet, I’m sure, but this whole episode has consisted of events where reporters and media have shot first and asked questions later. The rush to be first get the news out there and garner attention has overidden everything else, including journalistic standards. Tomasegate is the prime example, but there are others.
Remember in the last few weeks when there was a big rush of OFFENSIVE SIGNALS headlines(That Fish guy again) after Walsh turned over his tapes? Some speculated that this was a new facet of the cheating that could open up the case even more and end up in that eagerly anticipated suspension for Belichick.
This was despite the official comment from the league:
That statement didn’t stop the media from running with the OFFENSIVE SIGNALS storyline. That went on for a few days before dying out when people finally realized that the offensive signals weren’t really of any use.
From Trent Dilfer in Peter King’s MMQB column this week on the news that the league will be instituting coach-to-defensive-captain communication via radio:
videotaping “will be irrelevant. Now the offense will have no way of stealing signals anymore, because they’ll be done the same way the offense sends in signals — from the coach to a player on the field [through a microphone and speaker].
What that quote is saying is that taping offensive signals in the past was irrelevant – because there are no hand signals to steal.
So besides the fact that the tape were consistent with what the NFL already knew, it’s also come out that the taping of offensive signals was pretty much of no value.
We’ve had columnists and talking heads insinuate that there really was a tape of the Rams walkthrough, but that the Patriots “made it go away.” Or, as this guy asserts, they simply paid off Walsh:
For all we know, Walsh may have had more information and more damning evidence of the Patriots and their use of the infamous practice and signal tapes, but money has a way of making everything better. Again, no one, but Walsh and a few people with the New England franchise, will ever know the truth.
If the Patriots paid Walsh to destroy the tape, couldn’t they just have slipped him a few more bucks just to shut up all together? These types of unsubstantiated claims and assertions have been just far too common during this whole time.
Here’s one more example, from just last night.
One issue that has been overlooked by many/most/all of the media, and of which a reader has reminded us recently, is the question of whether the Patriots used their videotaping system on the St. Louis Rams when the two teams met in the 2001 regular season, only a couple of months before Super Bowl XXXVI.
It’s unclear whether the question has been asked, but it sure doesn’t appear to us that the question has been answered. And it’s a simple question — did the videotaping of defensive coaching signals include the November 18 prime-time game between the two teams, which the Rams won, 24-17?
Another prime example of “Let’s throw something out there without making any effort to check into it at all.”
From Walsh’s New York Times sitdown:
Q. The regular-season game against the Rams in 2001, what were your duties?
A. I remember before the game, our video room was located right next to the visitor’s locker room. Even though the locker room doors were closed, myself and Pepper Johnson were outside the video room right before the game. And we were able to hear, through the doors, Mike Martz giving his pre-game speech to the team. Trying to incite them about, you know, it was Sunday night football. How good they were. And how we were just another A.F.C. team.
They won by a touchdown, so I guess it worked.
Q. And what did you do during the game?
A. Filmed, to the best of my recollection. I can’t specifically say I remember the details of what I filmed.
Conveniently, Walsh doesn’t “remember the details.” He seems to remember everything else about that season, including meaningless preseason games, but he doesn’t remember this game and what he was doing. (Though he remembers the pregame incident from that same game.) If he DID film that game, don’t you think he would’ve said so directly, rather than vaguely dodging the question by saying he must’ve filmed, but doesn’t remember the details?
That tells me he didn’t film it. In fact, if he did, don’t you think that would’ve been one of the tapes he would’ve taken before he left the organization, given the significance of that game later on down the line?
This tells me two things…one, Florio truly was just “throwing it out there” – shooting before aiming, a problem throughout this entire episode – and two, the more you look into it, how much of anything Walsh says can you really believe?
That hasn’t stopped the media from breathlessly taking his words and running with them.
They’ve behaved with the subtlty of a pack of screaming jackals.
You can’t turn around these days without someone howling about the integrity of the game, about tainted championships, about lifetime suspensions.
They’ll howl at whatever camera, microphone or keyboard is in front of them. Attempts to reason with them go about as well as a carcass trying to talk its way out of getting torn to shreds by the pack.
These are the same ones who were (and are) screaming about “running up the score” and “sportsmanship” and even Belichick’s postgame handshakes.
They haven’t even bothered to hide their agendas
Everyone with an axe to grind against the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick has taken full advantage of the opportunity to kick them while they’re down. They don’t even try to hide why they’re doing it. Here’s a few of the key players:
Matt Walsh – Disgruntled ex-Patriots employee who was fired from his job for recording conversations with his superiors. ‘Nuff said
Arlen Specter- Disgruntled Eagles fan, who is also trying to strongarm the NFL into granting more favorable terms to Comcast, one of his key campaign contributors. He apparently believes everything he hears from Mark Schlereth on ESPN and what he reads in the New York Times, which may not be such a great idea. (See below.)
Greg Bishop, New York Times – You can detect a clear pattern in his stories. Let’s see, a puff piece on Charley Casserly in April leads to a piece in May with a “longtime N.F.L. team executive.” Think they’re not one and the same?
Why in the world would the New York Times write a piece on Drew Bledsoe? (March 10) Well, on February 22nd, Bishop got a “a former Patriots player” to talk about the Patriots taping signals as far back as 2000. Is it too much of a stretch to consider that Bishop wrote the article on Bledsoe’s wine and coffee business ventures as payola for the info in the Feb 22nd article?
Mark Schlereth, ESPN – Prior to the Patriots, his Denver Broncos were considered a mini dynasty of their own. Now, relegated to a footnote Schlereth has tried to discredit the Patriots at every turn. He insists that the team used the filmed signals during the same games, something that not only defies logic, (How could the team edit all that raw footage into a usable video AND decipher the signals within the same game?) but that even Walsh has denied.
Schlereth has convienently not addressed the fact that the Broncos circumvented the salary cap so they could pay John Elway and Terrell Davis $29 million in deferred payments. This allowed them to stock their team and win those two Super Bowls. I kind of think this is worse than the taping of signals…
There’s plenty more out there. Just look at any of the key figures and think about what their ties to the stories are or what their history with the Patriots is…
Tomasegate gave new life to the story that should have been put to bed.
The same media types who are shaking their heads at John Tomase for his handling of the Rams walkthrough video story were the first ones to gleefully run with his story when it came out. The walkthrough video story dominated ESPN’s Bottom Line and NFL Network’s ticker as well. Columnists and reporters around the country lined up for a second shot at the team and coach, and this has continued for three and a half months.
Had Tomase not published his story, perhaps this thing would be a dead issue by now. Instead, the witch-hunt has intensified, and even though the Tomase story has been retracted and an apology issued, the Spygate hysterics are back in full swing.
Tomase’s story is the single most egregious part of this entire matter, and he has skated, scot-free. As Patriots Daily pointed out today, Tomase may be accountable for his actions, but he hasn’t yet been held to account.
Rather than doing their jobs the way they’ve been trained, the media have taken as gospel the words of someone whose only true value was fueling the fire. To the media, everything is all about “advancing the story” – Walsh and Tomase were supposedly doing this, yet we see after the fact that they didn’t have anything new to offer.
A Real Reason for the Hate is Lack of Access
Even though they’ll dismiss this notion out of hand, this whole episode boils down to access. Can you sit there and realistically say that had it been Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden or Herman Edwards that did this that the stories and commentary would be as nasty and personal? If Bill Belichick sat down with the likes of Peter King on a weekly basis and invited them to watch him mow his lawn like Brett Favre, how do you think this would’ve gone?
You can almost hear the excuses that would’ve been made had these ones offered the same explanations that Belichick has offered.
“Dungy’s got a such a strong moral fiber, he wouldn’t have done this unless he was firmly convinced his interpretation of the rules was correct.”
“Herm just wants to win so badly, ‘You play to win the game’ – that’s what he always says. This is just a reflection of that.”
“Jon gets up at 3:30am every day to pour his soul into the preparation of his team, the taping and analysis of the signals just shows how obsessed he is with getting every detail just right.”
With Belichick, it’s because he is a cheater. All because he doesn’t “play the game” of keeping the media happy and well supplied with snappy quotes.
The actual accomplishments of the players and team are now dismissed.
Regardless of perceived advantage that the filmed signals would’ve provided, the players on the field had to make plays in order for the Patriots to win their championships. They had to make key stops, they had to catch the ball, run through the hole, or knock the offensive lineman aside to get to the quarterback. Nothing gained through film work could possibly help the players on the field do these things.
Knowing the defensive signals didn’t help Ty Law pick off Peyton Manning in the playoffs. It didn’t help Rodney Harrison seal the Super Bowl against Specter’s Eagles with a pick.
This is perhaps the saddest aspect of the whole affair. The accomplishments of such talented players have been muddied because of how the scandal has been blown out of proportion. Sure, Belichick and the Patriots do deserve a share of the blame because they broke the rules and started this whole mess, but the media has taken this event and taken it entirely too far.
Soon they will move on like nothing happened
At some point, another big scandal will erupt in the world of sports. The sports media’s attention will shift to that, leaving this episode in the past, to be revisited whenever convenient. (Especially if the Patriots roar out of the gate next season, or perhaps even more so, if they struggle.) To be sure, this isn’t going away completely, but it will fade into the background somewhat, but the damage will be permanently done in its wake.
It all added up to the The Most Miserable 18-1 Season in History but it clearly hasn’t stopped there.
The amount of coverage given this scandal has been nothing short of overwhelming. The average fan trying to follow this story could find himself hopelessly lost in the shouting, conjecture and speculation. Unfortuately, responsible reporting has not prevailed at all in this case, and reason is a rare commodity among this crowd.
Keep in mind that most of these same reporters and outlets were silent during the whole steroid era in baseball – even though most of them had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Is the outcry over this story merely these same ones overcompensating for their silence on steroids? Or is it part of our society’s macabre habit of turning on and tearing down our heroes after we’ve built them up?
Whatever the reason, the stench from all of this mess is going to take a long time to wear off.