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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Specter has good reason to keep an eye on Spygate

May 16, 2008|Sam Farmer

Say what you want about Sen. Arlen Specter and his obsession with the New England Patriots' videotaping scandal.

Yes, he's a politician. Yes, he could be focused on more important issues. Yes, he's a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Yes, he's supported by a cable company fighting the NFL.

But he could still be right.

The Pennsylvania Republican is calling for an independent investigation of Spygate. He says the NFL didn't adequately consider the evidence -- evidence ultimately destroyed -- before quickly penalizing the Patriots, who were fined $750,000 and docked a first-round draft pick.

After former Patriots employee-turned-whistle blower Matt Walsh met for more than three hours with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week, he flew to Washington and met with Specter, who has been scrutinizing this issue for at least six months.

Whereas Goodell sounded ready to put the story to rest, Specter seemed intent on keeping it alive. Among the points he entered into the Congressional Record this week:

"There has been no plausible explanation as to why Commissioner Goodell imposed the penalty on Sept. 13, 2007, before the NFL examined the tapes on Sept. 17, 2007."

"Commissioner Goodell misrepresented the extent of the taping when he said at the Super Bowl press conference on Feb. 1, 2008: 'I believe there were six tapes, and I believe some were from the preseason in 2007, and the rest were primarily in the late 2006 season' . . . [but] changed his story in his meeting with me on Feb. 13, 2008, when he said there has been taping since 2000."

"The Patriots took elaborate steps to conceal their filming of opponents' signals. Patriots personnel instructed Walsh to use a 'cover story' if anyone questioned him about the filming."

Some people think of Specter as more of a congressional crackpot than a tower of truth. After all, doesn't he have more pressing concerns than fiddling with the inner workings of the NFL?

Just this week, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told the Boston Globe: "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."

Of course, Kennedy couldn't resist adding, "I'm looking forward to another great Patriots season, where they can let their play on the field speak for itself."

Fan allegiances aside, this is serious stuff. The NFL is a $6-billion-a-year enterprise. Thanks to Congress, it also enjoys an exemption from antitrust laws, a luxury rarely afforded other businesses. With that comes responsibility, especially when the league's credibility is called into question. Making decisions among 32 owners in closed-door meetings is not always the most forthright way to go about things.

It wasn't so long ago that people wondered why the government should be meddling with the big business of Wall Street. Few people question that now.

A greater degree of transparency is essential the next time a Spygate-type situation arises. That might help stem the flood of rumors, half-truths and outright myths that swirled around the New England story.

The Boston Herald issued an apology this week for a story it published on the eve of Super Bowl XLII in February that said the Patriots secretly videotaped a St. Louis walk-through practice before their stunning Super Bowl victory over the Rams in 2002.

"We now know that this report was false and that no tape of the walk-through ever existed," the paper wrote. "We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification."

And there's this: How credible is Walsh, who has provided Specter so much intriguing fodder for his argument? There has been rampant speculation that he has embellished his role with the team.

But that's just it: So much of Spygate is rampant speculation.

There's also speculation about Specter's relationship with Comcast, the cable company that is among his most generous campaign donors. When it comes to any beef with the NFL, that conflict of interest is a legitimate concern.

If ever there were a commissioner suited for dealing with Congress it's Goodell, whose father was a U.S. senator from New York.

But Goodell has also spent his entire professional career with the NFL, something that made him the most attractive candidate to replace Paul Tagliabue.

Goodell was viewed as a bridge who could unite the new- and old-line ownership. He knows the NFL inside and out, and he handled Spygate in an old-fashioned way.

One in need of updating.

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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