Long read - but interesting timing with the SB this weekend.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee wants N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell to explain why the league destroyed evidence related to spying by the New England Patriots.
New England Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 by the N.F.L. after the Patriots were caught stealing defensive signals.
In the stretch of 12 days, from Sept. 9 to Sept. 20, the Patriots were caught filming the Jets' defensive signals in violation of N.F.L. rules, ordered to hand over all tapes of illegal filming to the league office, fined $750,000 and made to forfeit a first-round draft pick.
Then the N.F.L. announced it had destroyed the evidence.
In a telephone interview Thursday morning, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and ranking member of the committee, said that Goodell would eventually be called before the committee to address two issues: the league's antitrust exemption in relation to its television contract and the destruction of the tapes that revealed spying by the Patriots.
"That requires an explanation," Specter said. "The N.F.L. has a very preferred status in our country with their antitrust exemption. The American people are entitled to be sure about the integrity of the game. It's analogous to the C.I.A. destruction of tapes. Or any time you have records destroyed."
Mr. Specter first wrote Mr. Goodell about the tapes on Nov. 15. After more than a month passed without a response, Mr. Specter wrote to him again.
The league responded to Mr. Specter late Thursday afternoon. A spokesman said the letters did not reach the league office until late last week. The league added that it spoke to Mr. Specter's office several times during November and December, but that the letters were never mentioned. Mr. Specter said the league had told his office last week it would not respond until after the Super Bowl.
Joe Browne, the N.F.L.'s executive vice president for internal affairs, said, "The irony is that we have been in contact with the senator's office several times in recent weeks." He added that "the issue of these letters was not discussed."
Mr. Specter called Mr. Browne's response "untrue."
"It's the same old story," Mr. Specter said. "What you did is never as important as the cover-up. This sequence raises more concerns and doubts."
When Mr. Specter was asked if he could envision a situation in which employees of the Patriots or the N.F.L. were called to testify before the committee, he said he wanted to take the investigation "one step at a time."
"It could," Mr. Specter said. "It's premature to say whom we're going to call or when. It starts with the commissioner. He had the tapes, and he made the decision as to what the punishment could be. He made the decision to destroy them."
Mr. Specter said it had not been determined when Mr. Goodell would be called before the committee.
Matt Walsh, a Patriots employee from 1996 through 2003 who spent much of that time in the video department, said he would like to see the issue resolved.
"Was it a surprise that they were doing it or a surprise that they got caught?" Mr. Walsh said of the videotaping incident. "I guess that if you're doing something that people suspect you of, and then you start doing it to your former assistant coaches, then you're pushing your luck."
Mr. Walsh declined to say whether he would be willing to testify before a Congressional committee. He also said he had not been contacted by the N.F.L. about the Patriots or about videotaping.
"I'd like to see a resolution to the situation, so I don't have to have field media calls, especially after being out of the league for more than four years," he said.
Mr. Walsh, an assistant golf pro at the Ka'anapali Golf Resort in Lahaina, Hawaii, declined to get into specifics of what he did while with the Patriots' video department, citing confidentiality agreements he signed with the team. Greg Aiello, an N.F.L. spokesman, said the league did not have confidentiality agreements, but teams were free to make their own with their employees.
"After speaking to my lawyers and whatnot, I can't really talk to you about anything," Mr. Walsh said. "And I can't show you anything." Mr. Walsh said he had been approached by two news organizations, a "sports network" and "another media outlet that doesn't even specialize in sports." He said he would talk about his experiences only on his terms.
"If someone wanted me to talk and tell them things, I would craft an agreement where they would agree from now until the end of my existence to pay for any legal fees that came up in regards to this, whether I'm sued by the Patriots, the N.F.L., anybody else," he said. He also said he would want an indemnification agreement, with the news media company paying any fines or damages found against him in court. (It is against the policy of The New York Times to be part of such an agreement.) Mr. Walsh said he sought the legal advice after receiving telephone calls from the news media soon after the taping incident. He said he did so to protect himself and his family."
"If I ever got brought in for a deposition or something, then I would just face the whole gauntlet of questions," he said. "There would be things I'd be forced to answer that some people haven't taken responsibility for."
The Patriots' videotaping practices came into question during the opening game of their undefeated regular season. Jets security personnel caught a Patriots employee filming the Jets' defensive signals from the sideline at Giants Stadium on Sept. 9.
Mr. Goodell, whose father, Charles, was a congressman and later a senator from New York, went on national television and promised a full investigation. He ordered the Patriots to send in any videotape filmed in violation of N.F.L. rules, from any game in any season, to the league office.
After reviewing the tapes, the N.F.L. announced it had destroyed them, saying it did so to prevent them from being used to gain a competitive advantage.
Mr. Goodell levied the most severe penalty in history on the Patriots -- the loss of a first-round draft pick, a $500,000 fine for Coach Bill Belichick and a $250,000 fine for the team. The league said the penalty was for the Patriots' "totality of conduct" and not simply for the Jets game.
Mr. Goodell is to hold a news conference in Phoenix on Friday morning. When asked if the commissioner would address the destroyed evidence, what was on the tapes and why that information never was made public, Mr. Aiello, the league spokesman, said, "He will address whatever questions are asked."
The N.F.L. has addressed Mr. Specter's concerns about its antitrust exemption before.
"Over the years, we've testified before Senator Specter and the Judiciary Committee regarding our limited antitrust exemption," Mr. Browne said. "Usually, it's about television signals, not on-the-field defensive signals."
While responding to the antitrust exemption, the N.F.L. again declined to discuss the destruction of the tapes or discuss what they showed. Albert Tortorella, the managing director of crisis management for the Los Angeles-based Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, said he found that puzzling.
"Anytime Congress is involved with one of my clients, I tell them to respond," Mr. Tortorella said. "You may not want to give Congress anything. But ignoring them is not a good idea."
Mr. Specter, a lifelong Eagles fan who still calls Philadelphia sports radio stations most Monday mornings, said he was concerned about the integrity of sports as much as any fan.
"I don't think you have to have a law broken to have a legitimate interest by the Congress on the integrity of the game." He added: "What if there was something on the tapes we might want to be subpoenaed, for example? You can't destroy it. That would be obstruction of justice.
"It's premature to make any suggestions until you know a lot more about the matter. We need to know what's on those tapes."