Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An offense of Nixonian proportions?

I didn't feel the need to defend Bill Belichick and my New England Patriots as "Spygate" broke last week, but Greg Easterbrook's latest Tuesday Morning Quarterback column just begs a response - not just for my beloved football team but for the integrity of the NFL. Here's a taste:

It seems more than just an eerie coincidence that Belichick's unethical behavior involves illicit taping, the same offense that made Nixon's actions so sordid. The parallels to Nixon don't stop there. Caught, Belichick – like Nixon – tried to hide the true extent of the prohibited acts; Belichick – like Nixon – tried to claim his prohibited action hadn't been prohibited; Belichick – like Nixon – immediately stonewalled. It would be tempting to break the unhappy tone of this column with a Nixon joke – when the league plays Belichick's tape of the Jets' sideline, will there be an 18-and-a-half minute gap? But for all lovers of the NFL, there's just nothing to laugh about now.

What else is there about New England cheating that the team or league isn't telling us? Are the Patriots one bad apple, or is cheating common in the league? Worst, did the Patriots cheat in their Super Bowl wins? If New England was cheating in the Super Bowl, this will become the darkest sports scandal since Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox. If you don't think Goodell and all owners, including Robert Kraft of New England, are in abject terror of any possible disclosure that the Patriots were cheating in the Super Bowl, perhaps you just don't understand the situation.

The weasel wording of Belichick's Nixonian statement shows the New England coach full of contempt for the NFL fans, and the NFL enterprise, that made him a wealthy celebrity. Belichick declared that his super-elaborate cheating system was only a "mistake" caused by his "interpretation" of the league's rule. Wait, "interpretation"? The NFL rule bans teams from filming each other's sidelines. There's no room for interpretation, it's a ban! Here's the NFL policy, from a memo sent to all head coaches and general managers Sept. 6, 2006: "Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game." Prohibited. There's nothing there to "interpret." Videotaping opponent's signals even after getting this warning isn't a "mistake," it's cheating. Belichick's cheating was not some casual spur-of-the-moment blunder but rather an elaborate staffed system that took a lot of work to put into place and that Belichick worked hard to hide. And you don't hide something unless you are ashamed of it.


I usually love Greg Easterbrook, but he seems to have gone all apocalyptic on us in the wake of this scandal. Yes, the Patriots broke the rules. Yes they should be punished. And yes, I think a first round draft choice is a reasonable punishment. But I don't think the NFL is on the brink of collapsing on itself.

Let's just be clear about what Belichick did here. Do you think it has more in common with, (1) holding and other illegal blocking techniques such as cut blocking (which, by the way, the Broncos were accused of doing during their back-to-back Super Bowl runs) or (2) paying off the officials so they can make key calls during a game in your favor.

If you say 2, then maybe you need take your medication as directed by your doctor. And if you say 1, well, isn't this just a part of the competitive nature of sports and just one indication of the many ways teams look for any advantage they can get? In baseball do you really think corked bats, spit balls, and Bobby Valentine in a fake moustache and glasses really affects the integrity of the game? And if a team really, truly, and purposefully cheated, don't you think we'd take away the victories gained from cheating?

As I said, the Patriots broke the rules, but stealing signs isn't exactly earth shattering behavior. Teams have been doing that in every sport, since signs first started being used. The electronic nature of the offense makes it seem all the more devious, but if you watched the Patriots game on Sunday night, you saw a glimpse into the extremely vast media and technical aspects of coaching in the modern day NFL. There are cameras everywhere. Teams can legally stand on the sidelines and attempt to steal opponents signs with binoculars. Belichick broke the rules, but if you really think about everything else that goes on in the NFL, his rule-breaking really does seem to fall more along the lines of getting away with what you can get away with in a competitive sense, rather than actually trying to disrupt the competitive balance of the game- which, by the way, is what real cheating really involves.

Last year, after the Patriots lost 21-0 in Miami, reports came out of South Florida indicating that the Dolphins had purchased illegal tapes of the Patriots in order to learn Tom Brady's cadences. The Dolphins denied any rule-breaking, but they may have used tapes acquired under the rules in order to gain an advantage. The Patriots, to their credit, took the blame for the loss themselves, refusing to say that the Dolphins may have gleamed any sort of advantage from any audio tapes. If you don't see the similarities here your just not paying attention. If the Dolphins had broken the rules last year (which, by the way, would have been broken by Belichick buddy Nick Saban), would the outcome had been any different whether they had figured out Brady's cadences using legal or illegal tapes?

Belichick's real sin was defying the rules in the face of a specific warning from the league. I think that made the penalty worse than it might have been otherwise. And like a ten-yard penalty for holding, the team was fined for it's actions.

Wade Wilson, Cowboys quarterback coach, complained last week about the severity of his five game suspension for illegally obtaining human growth hormone when seen in comparison to Belichick's punishment. But Wilson really misses the point. He did something illegal and the NFL has a no tolerance policy toward illegal behavior. The NFL also suspends players for smoking marijuana (see Williams, Ricky), but it's not like that has any impact as to what goes on the field. In other words, the Wade Wilsons and Michael Vicks of the world are a completely different ball of wax. The fact that Belichick is not facing any sort of suspension is further indication of the severity of his discretions. For the millionth time, yes, bad because he violated the rules, but not as bad as violating the drug policy.

Finally, I- honest-to-God- wonder if Belichick pushed this issue to 1- force the league to do something, to 2- force Eric Mangini to do something, and 3- to have everyone in the world- the media, the fans, and the rest of the league focused on something other than just how stacked the Patriots are? You would think Belichick would know that this story just isn't going to die. And what better way to keep his team focused and motivated than to have all the media attention focused on himself and to have this undercurrent of thought that Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi and the rest didn't really deserve all those other Super Bowl titles. Just a thought ... but he is an evil genius.

1 Comments:

Blogger John said...

"Belichick broke the rules, but if you really think about everything else that goes on in the NFL, his rule-breaking really does seem to fall more along the lines of getting away with what you can get away with in a competitive sense, rather than actually trying to disrupt the competitive balance of the game- which, by the way, is what real cheating really involves."

But that's exactly what they did, disrupt the competitive balance or at least try to. It's one thing to look across the sidelines and try to decipher a sign, it's another to film the signals, the down and yardage of the play and then sync that up with the actual game tape. It's naive of someone to think that Belichick would be doing all of this if there wasn't a competitive advantage. Now that disrupts the balance because why blow the whistle on another coach if you're doing it yourself?

I'll equate this to baseball sign stealing. It's one thing for a guy on 2nd base to stare over 100 feet into a catcher's crotch, pick out which sign is being used and somehow relay that to the batter. If you can do it, good for you, but you better believe you or one of your teammates is getting drilled with a fastball if you're caught. Also, if you're caught once, then the signs just get more and more complicated. But, if there's a guy in the center field bleachers with binoculars deciphering the signs and relaying them to the dugout, where baserunners will already know what to look for when they reach base, well then that's different. That's almost indefensible from an opposing team stand point. Back to the NFL now, it's one thing for a guy in a press box to write down every hand motion of every coach, every down and yardage for each play and save that for later games, but it's another for a guy to be filming all of that. An opposing team makes it's signals complicated enough that they can't be figured out in game by the human eye, but when they are put on film and synced with everything else without the knowledge of the opposing team, is that really fair? That sounds like a disruption of competitive balance and cheating to me.

"Finally, I- honest-to-God- wonder if Belichick pushed this issue to 1- force the league to do something, to 2- force Eric Mangini to do something, and 3- to have everyone in the world- the media, the fans, and the rest of the league focused on something other than just how stacked the Patriots are?"

You sound like some conspiracy theorist. Come on. If you honestly think that you're just a homer nut job. You know what, maybe Wade Wilson ordered HGH just so the league would do something about it and take the attention off of Tony Romo, or maybe Brett Favre criticized the front office to take the attention off of his young team. Give me a break. Bill Belichick is an a-hole, always has been. This is a guy who got a divorce because he spent too much time devoting his life to football. This is a guy who is being accused by a former player of forcing players to play while hurt. He did this to get an advantage and he got caught. If anything, he probably didn't think Mangini or the Jets would do anything about it because no one else ever had. Odds are Belichick has been doing this for years and now there's a backlash against him. Think about this for a second. Look at the teams and coaches that probably have legit claims of Belicheating. Rod Marinelli, Mike McCarthy, Eric Mangini and Jack Del Rio. What do they have in common? All three have been head coaches for 3 years or less. Does this mean the rest of the league is cheating and filming illegally? No. It just means the old coaching fraternity that protected each other and had it out behind closed doors is being replaced by coaches who won't stand for it.

7:55 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home