A mere ten days ago, ESPN published a blockbuster story about alleged rampant cheating by the New England Patriots between 2000-2007.
According to ESPN, what the world came to know in 2007 as the relatively limited “spygate” scandal – the intermittent illegal taping of other teams’ signals – was the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper and more pervasive campaign of dirty tricks carried out by the Pats. While the spygate revelations resulted in the levying of fines against coach Bill Belichick and the team, as well as forfeited draft picks, the new ESPN reporting claimed that the NFL went easy on New England. In fact, as Don Van Natta, Jr and his colleagues wrote, other NFL owners have been resentful ever since 2007 that Commissioner Roger Goodell, both out of deference to his friend, Pats’ owner Robert Kraft and because the larger scandal would have seriously embarrassed the league, orchestrated a cover-up of the Pats’ transgressions.
All of this provides essential context for the NFL’s pursuit of Tom Brady in the latest -gate scandal, deflate-gate. Van Natta, Jr. and associates say that Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend the Pats’ quarterback for four games – a serious punishment by NFL disciplinary standards – was a belated attempt to mollify other owners still grumbling over the league’s earlier kid-glove approach.
For about 48 hours last week, the story dominated sports media coverage, raising anew serious questions about the circumstances under which New England won its first three Super Bowl titles in the early 2000s. But as intensively as the sports world picked over the cheating revelations, ESPN bombshell report dropped out of sight almost immediately.
Though many Patriots fans viewed the story as yet one more unfair attack on their beleaguered franchise, motivated by resentment and jealousy because of all their success, the real indictment pointed at Goodell and associates. Indeed, not that it has much left when it comes to disciplinary matters, but the commissioner’s and the league’s credibility should have been destroyed by the Van Natta expose. When Goodell was asked last Monday, on Mike and Mike, whether he’d been aware of the just-released report and whether there was any truth to claimed connection between spygate and Brady’s suspension, Goodell answered, “not that I am aware of.” Given Goodell’s central role in both matters, “not that I am aware of” is a virtual non-sequitur. It’d be as if someone asked Goodell whether he’d had an extra-marital affair, and he responded by saying, “not that I’m aware of.”
So, the question is: once the story aired, did NFL officials hound ESPN into dropping it? How could such significant disclosures, right at the start of a new season, vanish into thin air so soon after first appearing, especially given the excruciating minutiae ESPN picked over day after day in the months-long deflate-gate saga?
The answer might be that, for all that Goodell has bungled in the past few years, the cheating story threatened to do more damage to his credibility than any of the more recent controversies.
I find disappearing of this story, given its obvious magnitude, to be very puzzling.