Will Spygate cover-up prove worse than the crime? Print
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Sunday, 09 March 2008 22:56
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 For most of us, Spygate fell off the radar the moment the New England Patriots got beat in the Super Bowl.
It hardly mattered which side you were on going into the game. By the end, those who believed the team and coach Bill Belichick were cheaters had their pound of flesh. And those who believed the Pats were persecuted for something everybody else does had to let it go for fear of being labeled whiny losers.
But Spygate didn't disappear. Remember what one investor who bought in early said about the Hooters restaurant chain after reading the prospectus: ``This thing has incredible legs.''
Well, this thing might, too. Especially if the cover-up turns out to be worse than the crime.
On Sunday, lawyers for the NFL and former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh confirmed they were close to an agreement to have Walsh tell the league what he knows, and perhaps show a 6-year-old video clip that could put the whole mess back on the front pages.
``Nobody wants to talk to Matt Walsh more than we do,'' an NFL spokesman said. ``We've said that since his name surfaced we don't know if he has any more information or not. The implication is he does and if so, we'd like to know what it is.''
Walsh wasn't interviewed during the league's initial investigation, after which commissioner Roger Goodell concluded the team had improperly taped opponents' defensive signals. While reserving the right to revisit the matter and hand out further punishment as warranted, he fined Belichick $500,000, docked the club an additional $250,000 and next year's first-round pick for good measure. Then, in a move that generated more questions than answers, Goodell ordered all the evidence to be destroyed.
Even so, the matter might have ended there, except for two developments.
First, Walsh apparently claimed several weeks before this year's Super Bowl that he taped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough practice the day before they played - and despite being better than two-touchdown favorites, subsequently lost to - New England in the 2002 Super Bowl. Next, for reasons that we'll get to below, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter latched onto the controversy like a terrier grabbing a mailman's pant leg.
lked things over and parted agreeing to disagree on a few points.
Spygate might have ended there, too, except that Specter saw the letters being exchanged between the NFL and Walsh and decided the league was neither eager nor interested in what Walsh had to show and tell.
``Any objective or accurate reading of the correspondence would show the NFL is trying to discourage Walsh from coming forward,'' he told The Times over the weekend.
This is where things really get murky.
The senator's dogged determination to get at the truth would be even more admirable if not for a few nagging doubts. Specter, after all, wouldn't be the first politician to do a little grandstanding early in a re-election year. But it's troubling that one of his biggest campaign contributors is Philadelphia-based Comcast, which just happens to be involved in a long and potentially costly feud with the league over where to place the NFL Network on its cable system.
Specter, for his part, has denied any link. But if you accept his explanation for getting involved - that as a fan, he wants to be sure the Patriots beat his Eagles fair and square in the 2005 Super Bowl - Specter's abuse of power is every bit as high-handed as what he's accused Goodell of doing.
Never mind that the commissioner explained his handling of the investigation to the satisfaction of the league's competition committee, or that he told the same committee he expects it to pass tougher measures for reporting and punishing cheaters. Among them is one requiring the owner, coach and chief football executive at each club to sign a statement each year certifying the team didn't cheat.
It's not just applying the honor system; in effect, it's shifting the burden for following the rules onto the shoulders of officials at each club, under the threat of even heavier fines and suspension certain to follow. Depending on what Walsh dumps in his lap, Goodell could still decide to turn the Patriots into ``Exhibit A.''
In light of all that, it seems fair to ask whether Specter should be threatening to burn any more taxpayer dollars - in what's already been a busy, expensive year - trying to make sure that pro sports are on the up-and-up. The bad news is that it might already be too late.
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org
 

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