WASHINGTON (AP) - With the Super Bowl fast approaching, a senior Republican senator says he wants the NFL to explain why it destroyed evidence of the New England Patriots cheating scandal.
``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,'' said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in a Thursday letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the matter could put the league's antitrust exemption at risk.
``Their antitrust exemption has been on my mind for a long time,'' he said in a Capitol Hill news conference.
The matter may not compare to the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes, Specter said, but he 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.''
``It's a league matter,'' New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday during a news conference. ``I don't know anything about it.''
The Patriots play Sunday in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants.
NFL security confiscated a video camera and tape from a Patriots employee during New England's 38-14 victory over the New York Jets. 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, the maximum amount, 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.
After its investigation, the NFL said it destroyed all materials it received from the Patriots.
In a Jan. 31 letter to Specter which the senator released Friday, Goodell said the tapes and notes on the investigation were destroyed to ensure that the Patriots ``would not secure any possible competitive advantage as a result of the misconduct.''
Specter said the explanation ``absolutely makes no sense at all,'' and blasted the commissioner for failing to respond to his inquiries on the matter for more than two months. Goodell said in his letter that he just became aware of Specter's questions Thursday.
``There's a credibility issue here,'' Specter said.
He stopped short of charging a coverup, but warned that the judiciary panel may want to probe the matter.
In the meantime, Specter said he might miss Sunday's big game.
``I may play squash while it's on,'' Specter said.
The New York Times first reported on Specter's letter.

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