Goodell learns lessons from smoldering Spygate
After being burned by his mismanagement of Spygate at the start, Roger Goodell is taking steps to protect the game's integrity. But he's smart not to believe Spygate is over, Jeffri Chadiha writes.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Give NFL commissioner Roger Goodell credit for this: He's not about to let the same problem burn him twice.That was the message he was sending during Monday's news conference at the owners meeting, when he answered questions about his new ideas for addressing spying. Goodell clearly doesn't want the league's integrity compromised under his watch, but that isn't the only agenda he's pursuing here. He's also smart enough to see the need for preventing a fire before it ever has another chance to ignite.
What Goodell obviously learned from Spygate -- the taping of defensive signals by a New England Patriots employee that resulted in a combined $750,000 in fines for head coach Bill Belichick and the team along with the loss of a first-round pick in this year's draft -- is that it's not so easy for the NFL to push stories off the front page anymore. This issue lingered over the Patriots during a record-breaking regular season and also forced Goodell to spend ample time dealing with both the criticisms of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. and the allegations of former Patriots employee Matt Walsh. In short, the entire episode has been one huge headache.
Keeper Of The House
Since taking over as commiss-
ioner, Roger Goodell has tackled player conduct head on. But should the rules apply only to players, or should every league employee be held accountable? Our experts weigh in. Third And Short
But now we're finally seeing Goodell on the offensive. He's currently tinkering with a plan that could include spot checks of coaching booths and team headquarters to ensure teams aren't gaining unfair advantages. Goodell also is doing exactly what he did last offseason, when he established a personal conduct policy to address a disturbing trend of players' running afoul of the law: He's sensing the need to stifle any possibility of fans' losing faith in his product."I believe very strongly in the integrity of our league," Goodell said. "And I'm going to take the steps to protect that."
Integrity is a hot topic for Goodell these days because the league basically mismanaged Spygate from the start. The minute Goodell destroyed the tapes that Belichick had created, the league opened itself up to all types of scrutiny -- especially because the general public had no idea what was on the tapes. At the time, it seemed as if the story would vanish once Goodell disciplined Belichick. The question that remains is how much the league really knew about the coach's actions. And that little mystery is the only reason this story still lives today.
At this stage, it's hard to imagine many people even care about what kind of advantage Belichick gained from his tactics. The real issue is whether Walsh actually has more dirt on the Patriots' head coach. The worst-case scenario for the Patriots is that Belichick didn't come completely clean with Goodell about his misdeeds because Goodell could levy further sanctions.Of course, the worst-case scenario for Goodell is that Walsh starts talking publicly about his information -- he claims to have evidence that could've exposed the Patriots long before they were caught in their season-opening win over the New York Jets last season -- and the league winds up looking like it went too easy on Belichick as a result.
On Monday, Goodell reiterated that his latest ideas have little to do with Belichick. When asked about Spygate, Goodell said, "We responded very aggressively to it. To date, all the other rhetoric [about Belichick's actions] has been rumors. We don't have any more information on the taping of defensive signals. We know coach Belichick has done that throughout his career, and he was disciplined for it."
However, Goodell did admit that he remains eager to speak with Walsh. The commissioner added that Walsh's desire to protect himself from legal action is the only reason the wait for their conversation has become so frustrating. "We've talked to over 50 people and he's the only person who's asked for [special] conditions," Goodell said. "I'm anxious to meet with him. He's indicated through the media that he has some more information that I'm not aware of yet. If he has a tape or some information, I'd be anxious to get it."
The smartest thing Goodell did during his news conference was to avoid any talk about Spygate being finished. As much as people want this story to go away -- especially Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who claimed that Walsh's allegations are bogus -- there won't be any closure unless Walsh speaks. This matter is not disappearing because enough time passes. The league cannot wish it away by avoiding discussion of it. This issue, regardless of how trivial it now seems, still has too many layers left to peel away.
What people have to realize is that stories without legitimate endings usually tend to linger, as is the case here. On the flip side, it's also much easier to control a story when you can determine how it starts. That's the reality that Goodell was focusing on when he spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon. And that approach likely means he'll have a better chance of avoiding the kind of embarrassment that blindsided both him and his league last fall.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
Former Patriots employee Matt Walsh met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Sen. Arlen Specter to discuss Patriots' illegal videotaping. Story
More News• Belichick says he made 'mistake'
• Herald reporter: Sources never saw tape
• Walsh admits he knew it was wrong
• Senator wants inquiry | Read it (pdf)
• Fish: Would Congress investigate Pats?
• Boston Herald apologizes for false report
• Clayton: Five things we learned from Spygate
• Walsh sends eight tapes to NFL
• Fish: Pats stole offensive signs | Timeline
• Clayton: Spygate will expire quietly
• Former Pats employee sends tapes to league
• Fish: NFL faces serious questions
• Goodell to punish Pats, depending on evidence
• Walsh, NFL to finally talk | Agreement
• Goodell growing impatient with Walsh stalemate
• Kraft, Belichick apologize to owners
• Walsh still working on deal for testimony
• Rams player, fans withdraw lawsuit
• Spygate revelations might not be imminent
• NFL, Walsh close to deal to turn over tapes
• Report: Specter calls on Goodell to release letters
• Report: Goodell proposes crackdown on cheating
• Specter says Pats 'stonewalling' Spygate probe
• Committee lauds Goodell's handling of Spygate
• Goodell hoping deal to talk to Walsh close to done
• Report: Belichick denies Pats taped Rams' drills
• Walsh's attorney: NFL indemnity offer falls short
• Specter prepared to extend Spygate investigation
• Goodell has no regrets about destroying tapes
• Source: Specter wants NFL indemnity for witness
• Goodell, Specter to discuss Spygate Wednesday
Commentary• Mortensen: What were Rams thinking?
• Yasinskas: Spygate stench won't go away
• Paolantonio: Goodell's Spygate responsibility
• Clayton: Spygate closing with a whimper
At The Pro BowlNews
• Ex-Pats video assistant mum on Spygate probe
At The Super BowlNews
• Goodell willing to give Pats' Walsh indemnification
• Goodell, Specter won't meet until after Pro Bowl
• Vermeil doubts spying made difference for Pats
• Goodell to meet with Sen. Specter about Spygate
• Report: N.E. taped Rams before XXXVI
• Fish: Ex-Ram Warner suspicious of Pats
• Specter to Goodell: Let's talk
• Fish: Possible 'Spygate' witness surfaces
• Once burned, Goodell turns fireman
• Munson: Congressional interest is serious business
• Pasquarelli: Specter should stick with politics
• Clayton: Spy saga won't distract Patriots
• Hashmarks at Goodell's news conference
• Specter to Goodell (.pdf)
• Goodell to Specter (.pdf)
• NFL has all materials from Pats in spying scandal
• NFL reviews how tape leaked to Fox
• Belichick to turn over materials in spying probe
• Pats owner perturbed by Belichick's spy games
• Goodell orders Pats to turn over all video
• Sources: Patriots give Belichick extension
• Wilson spies inconsistencies in Belichick case
• NFL fines Belichick $500K, Pats $250K for spying
• Bill Belichick's apology to Patriots community
• Clayton Q&A: Patriots can survive this penalty
• Two days later, Belichick still won't comment
• Some Eagles question Pats' tactics in Super Bowl
• Belichick issues apology amid accusations
• Sources: Goodell determines Patriots broke rules
• Clayton: NFL penalty for Belichick, Pats too light
• Mosley: Pats lose first-rounder? Roger that
• Scouts Inc.: What the Pats will miss in '08 draft
• Chadiha: Legal spying widespread in NFL
• Sando: What's legal, what's not in spy game
• What they're saying: Players, coaches, pundits
• Luksa: Spy stories once had comedic value
• Bryant: Belichick deserves two-week banishment
• Clayton: Goodell to treat breech seriously
• Simmons: The camera doesn't lie
• Simmons: Cheating not necessary to win opener Video
• What should happen to the Pats?
• Belichick deflects videotape-related questions
• Former Patriot thinks team should be punished
• Reactions from around the league
• Mike Vrabel, Pats linebacker: Don't criticize the players
• Chris Mortensen: Situation might motivate the Patriots
• Keyshawn: It was 'scouting,' not cheating
• Salisbury: Story blown out of proportion SportsNation
• Vote: Was New England's punishment fair?
• Mixed reader results on NFL spying