ⓘ Spygate (NFL)
Spygate was an incident during the National Football Leagues 2007 season, when the New England Patriots were disciplined by the league for videotaping New York Jets defensive coaches signals from an unauthorized location during a September 9, 2007 game. Videotaping opposing coaches is not illegal in the NFL de jure, but there are designated areas allowed by the league to do such taping. Because the Patriots were instead videotaping the Jets coaches from their own sideline during the game, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell deemed it to be in violation of league rules, stating that the act represented a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field. After an investigation, the NFL fined Patriots head coach Bill Belichick 0.000 for his role in the incident, fined the Patriots 0.000, and docked the team their original first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft which would have been the 31st pick of the draft.
As part of their probe into the allegations, the NFL required the Patriots to turn over any and all notes and tapes relating to the taping of opponents defensive signals; the Patriots did not want the video tapes to leave their facilities, in turn league officials went to Patriots athletic facilities and proceeded to smash the tapes, by order of Goodell. This action was criticized on February 1, 2008 - 2 days before Super Bowl XLII - by U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Arlen Specter, who requested to meet with Goodell. After meeting with Goodell on February 13, 2008, Specter reported that Goodell told him that Belichick had been engaged in the practice since he became head coach of the Patriots in 2000. Belichick said he believed he was operating within the rules as long as the tape was not used during the same game.
Nearly five months after the incident, the Boston Herald reported, citing an unnamed source, that the Patriots had also videotaped the St. Louis Rams walkthrough practice prior to Super Bowl XXXVI in February 2002, an allegation denied by Belichick and later retracted by the Boston Herald. Meanwhile, Matt Walsh, a Patriots video assistant in 2001 who was fired after the teams 2002 season, told the media the same week that he had information and materials regarding the Patriots videotaping practices, but demanded an indemnity agreement before speaking with the NFL. The NFL reached a deal with Walsh on April 23, 2008, and arranged a meeting between Goodell and Walsh. Prior to the meeting, Walsh sent eight videotapes, containing opponents coaches signals from the 2000 through 2002 seasons, in accordance with the agreement. Goodell and Walsh met on May 13, 2008, at which time Walsh told Goodell he and other Patriots employees were present at the Rams walkthrough to set up video equipment for the game but that there was no tape of the walkthrough made; as a result, Goodell told the media no additional penalties would be brought against the Patriots. Less than 24 hours later, the Herald issued an apology for the article about the alleged walkthrough tape.
1. Initial accusation and discipline
On September 10, 2007, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was accused by the New York Jets of authorizing his staff to film the Jets defensive signals from an on-field location, a violation of the National Football Leagues NFL rules. NFL Security confiscated the video camera used by video assistant Matt Estrella to film the signals during the game. Jets head coach Eric Mangini - a former Patriots assistant coach - had reported the fact that the Patriots were taping from the sidelines to NFL Security. Mangini later stated, "I didnt think it was any kind of significant advantage, but I wasnt going to give them the convenience of doing it in our stadium, and I wanted to shut it down. But there was no intent to get the league involved. There was no intent to have the landslide that it has become."
Two days later, Belichick issued a statement "to apologize to everyone who has been affected," and also stated that he spoke with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about Belichicks "interpretation of the rule." Belichick stated that he believed that if footage so collected was not used during the game, its collection was legal, as the NFL Constitution and Bylaws stipulate that ".any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited.including without limitation.any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game." In a September 2006 memorandum sent out by NFL Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson, though, all teams were told that "videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponents offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game."
1.1. Initial accusation and discipline Penalty and fines
On September 13, for the "use of equipment to videotape an opposing team’s offensive or defensive signals," Belichick was officially fined $500.000 - the largest fine ever imposed on a coach in the leagues then-87-year history, and the maximum permitted under league rules. The Patriots were also fined $250.000, and stripped of their first-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft; if the Patriots had missed the playoffs, they would have forfeited their second- and third-round selections instead. Goodell said that he fined the Patriots as a team because Belichick is effectively the teams general manager as well as head coach, and exercises so much control over the Patriots on-field operations that "his actions and decisions are properly attributed to the club." Goodell considered suspending Belichick, but decided that taking away draft picks would be more severe in the long run. The Patriots officially clinched their fifth straight AFC East division title on November 25, making them the first NFL team since the 1971 Miami Dolphins to have a first-round pick taken away by league action.
The next day, Belichick issued a statement in which he apologized for what he called a "mistake" in his interpretation of the rules. However, he denied ever using videotape to gain an advantage while a game was underway, which Goodell also acknowledged.
On September 16, Goodell ordered the Patriots to hand over all notes, tapes, and other materials related to the incident, threatening further discipline if the Patriots did not comply. On September 20, the NFL announced they had received and destroyed the requested materials. In his pre-Super Bowl XLII press conference, Goodell revealed the contents of the materials, saying there were six tapes from late in the 2006 season and the 2007 preseason.
1.2. Initial accusation and discipline Initial response
After footage from the actual tape was aired on Fox NFL Sunday on September 16, former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson claimed, "This is exactly how I was told to do it 18 years ago by a Kansas City Chiefs scout. I tried it, but I didnt think it helped us." Johnson also said, "Bill Belichick was wrong because he videotaped signals after a memo was sent out to all of the teams saying not to do it. But what irritates me is hearing some reactions from players and coaches. These players dont know what their coaches are doing. And some of the coaches have selective amnesia because I know for a fact there were various teams doing this. Thats why the memo was sent to everybody. That doesnt make and he’s entitled to whatever he thinks. It just doesn’t matter." After New England completed the regular season unbeaten, Shula commended the Patriots for doing "a great job of concentrating on each weeks opponent and not letting any other distractions interrupt that focus."
In addition, beginning with the 2008 season, the NFL owners approved a rule that permitted defensive coach-to-player radio communications, mirroring the system used by the offense first implemented in 1994.
2. Congressional attention
On February 1, 2008, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter then R-PA, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, commented on the incident and the NFLs decision to destroy the video tape evidence in a The New York Times article. Specter was quoted in a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as saying, "I am very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes." Specter also said he could call Goodell to attend a congressional hearing on the leagues antitrust exemption, at which time Goodell would also be asked to comment on the destruction of the tapes received from the Patriots. Specters true motivation for becoming involved with Spygate was brought into question by some due to the fact that Specters largest campaign contributors were Comcast and its lobbyists, and at the time Comcast was in the middle of an acrimonious dispute with NFL Network over distribution fees.
In his annual Super Bowl press conference later on February 1, Goodell said he was "more than willing" to meet with Congress to explain his reasoning behind destroying the tapes, and added he didnt think the videotaping incident "tainted accomplishments." Goodell reiterated these beliefs in a January 31 memorandum to Specter while also adding the NFL had no evidence the Patriots improperly taped the Eagles signals during Super Bowl XXXIX.
Goodell and Specter privately met in Washington D.C. on February 13, 2008. After the meeting, Goodell said he believed destroying the materials was "the right thing to do" and that he "had nothing to hide." Later, Specter told reporters that he "found a lot of questions unanswerable because of the tapes and notes had been destroyed." Goodell also told Specter that Belichick privately informed Goodell during the initial investigation that the taping practices dated back to when Belichick took over as the Patriots head coach in 2000. Goodell told reporters Belichick believed the taping was legal, adding "He said thats always been his interpretation since hes been the head coach.We are going to agree to disagree on the facts." Specter also told reporters the "Spygate" case against the New England Patriots involved four games against the Steelers, including two AFC championship games. Specter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "I think Steelers fans have a lot to be concerned about this and Im one of them.maybe Steelers ownership should think about it a little." Two days later, Steelers chairman Dan Rooney rebuffed Specter, stating that "We consider the tapes of our coaching staff during our games against the New England Patriots to be a non-issue. In our opinion, they had no impact on the results of those games."
3.1. Further accusations against the Patriots Information from Matt Walsh
Matt Walsh, a former Patriots employee who was with the team in 2001 as a video assistant and was fired after the 2002 season, which he spent as a scouting assistant, indicated in the days before Super Bowl XLII that he had information regarding the Patriots actions but had not yet divulged it: "If I had a reason to want to go public or tell a story, I could have done it before this even broke," he said. "I could have said everything rather than having legal team, that it was not appropriate to run that story," the Herald published the article the next day. In the ensuing three months, per Kraft, it was understood throughout the country that the Patriots had taped the walkthrough as a result of the article, and according to the Patriots public relations department, another 300.000 other newspaper articles referencing the Herald s report; Kraft said he did not know how the team could reach that group to take back that belief. In the wake of the incident, Kraft also said the Patriots lawyers and administrators now go over every rule change and clarification with the coaching staff and ask the staff to come to them first on any rule interpretation questions. Kraft dismissed the allegations of the Patriots tampering with sideline communication systems or playclocks, as those were both operated by league, not team, officials. Finally, Kraft said the Patriots looked to move on from the false report and to re-establish their prior relationship with the Herald.
Tomase explained the lead-up to the publishing of the false report in the Boston Herald s edition of May 16, 2008. Tomase said that he first heard of the rumor late in the 2006 season, but dismissed it until the rumor resurfaced from a "much stronger source" after the September 2007 incident. Two days before the Super Bowl, once The New York Times and ESPN published stories about Matt Walsh, Toamse said Walshs name "set off alarms," as "many believed he had filmed the walkthrough." Tomase added that despite warnings from the Patriots and other reporters, he was "caught up in the moment" and "hadnt stepped back to consider the ramifications." While the report cited one unnamed source, Tomase said that while he had multiple sources for the story, he relied on one more than any other, and refused to name that source. Finally, Tomase believed that while he never felt he was being lied to by his source, he should not have written the story in the absence of seeing the tape or getting comments from members of the organization.
In the weeks after Deflategate in 2015 between the Patriots and Colts, ESPN ran several stories citing the Boston Herald article. On August 20, 2015, ESPN issued an apology.
3.2. Further accusations against the Patriots Specters calls for independent investigation
A day after privately speaking with Walsh in his Washington D.C. offices, Specter held a press conference to announce his desire for an independent investigation into the Patriots videotaping practices. Specter cited Senator George J. Mitchells D-ME report "The Mitchell Report" into steroids use in baseball as an example of an impartial, outside investigation. Specter said he believed there was a conflict of interest in the NFLs investigation of the Patriots practices, and criticized the NFL for allowing Patriots attorney Dan Goldberg into Walshs meeting with Goodell and letting him ask questions. He also said that he felt the Patriots owed the public "a lot more candor and a lot more credibility" with regard to their practices.
Specter also spoke of his own meeting with Walsh, who told Specter of a former Patriots offensive player who told Walsh about being called into a meeting with Belichick, Adams, and then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis before a September 3, 2000 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at which point the player was instructed to memorize previously recorded defensive signals on tape, watch for the signals from the sidelines during the game, and relay them to Weis. This, according to the player, allowed the Patriots to anticipate 75 percent of the defenses plays being called.
In the press conference, Specter also noted that Walsh, while taping signals during a game against the Jets, stood next to a Jets videographer who, to Walsh, also appeared to be taping signals. Walsh later elaborated, saying the Jets cameraman was angling his camera towards the Patriots sidelines, and that Walsh did not question him about his activity because Walsh knew he himself was doing the same thing. Walsh later advised then-defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to change the teams signals in light of the event.
On May 15, 2008, Senator Ted Kennedy D-MA, who at the time, along with Specter sat on the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, commented on Specters initiative, saying: "With the war in Iraq raging on, gasoline prices closing in on $4 a gallon, and Americans losing their homes at record rates to foreclosure, the United States Senate should be focusing on the real problems that Americans are struggling with."
In a June 16, 2008 interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, Specter said he "had gone as far as he could" with the matter, and would not request a senate hearing.
3.3. Further accusations against the Patriots 2015 ESPN report
In a report for ESPN, Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham contend that commissioner Roger Goodells handling of Deflategate was influenced by his hasty and incomplete handling of the Spygate incident. Van Natta Jr. and Wickersham argue that the true extent of the Spygate scandal was covered up by Goodell and the National Football League in order to protect the image of the NFL and as a favor to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was in part responsible for Goodells promotion to commissioner. The report alleges a highly complex system in which opposing teams signals were recorded, decoded, and relayed to Patriots coaches and players on the field during games spanning at least 40 games between 2000 and 2007. This system also included a personal assistant to Bellichick who had a photographic memory and had the official title "Football Research Director", the only person with such a title in the NFL, he told congress stories about sneaking behind opponents benches and filming their huddles. According to the article a scout team would go out to future Patriot opponents and film signs and plays. They would then make a spreadsheet of all the signs and corresponding plays, Patriot staffers would then hand off the spreadsheets to the "football Research Director" who would match signals to the plays. The Patriots would also sometimes bring in former players of the team they were playing ask them if they accurately had recorded the signals, they would later cut the player.
The article goes on to quote a former Patriots assistant as saying "things got out of control," in reference to the entire system of covert taping and signal decoding.
In a statement from Mike Martz, the St. Louis Rams ex-offensive coordinator and coach also recalls that Goodell asked him to write a statement, saying that he was satisfied with the NFLs Spygate investigation and was certain the Patriots had not cheated and asking everyone to move on - like leaders of the Steelers and Eagles had done. A congressional inquiry that would put league officials under oath had to be avoided, Martz recalls Goodell telling him. "If it ever got to an investigation, it would be terrible for the league," Goodell said.
4. Accusations in 2010 against Broncos
On November 27, 2010, the NFL fined the Denver Broncos and their head coach Josh McDaniels, who served as an assistant coach under Belichick from 2001–2008, $50.000 each after Broncos video director Steve Scarnecchia videotaped the San Francisco 49ers walkthrough practice prior to the October 30, 2010 NFL International Series game in Wembley Stadium, London. Scarnecchia, the son of longtime Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, was a video assistant for the Patriots in 2001–2004, before joining the Jets video department for the 2006–2007 seasons. As a result of the NFLs findings, Scarnecchia was fired by the Broncos, and is subject to a hearing regarding a possible ban from the NFL for twice being involved in an integrity-of-game policy violation.
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