Senator wants to know why NFL destroyed Patriots spy tapes

Updated: February 2, 2008, 4:25 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- With the Super Bowl fast approaching, a senior Republican senator says he wants the NFL to explain why it destroyed evidence from the New England Patriots cheating scandal.

"I am very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., wrote Thursday in a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The story was first reported by The New York Times.

Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the matter could put the league's antitrust exemption at risk. In a telephone interview with the Times on Thursday, he said the committee at some point will call Goodell to address the antitrust exemption as well as the destruction of the tapes.

"Their antitrust exemption has been on my mind for a long time," he said in a Capitol Hill news conference Friday.

Goodell, in his previously scheduled news conference Friday in Phoenix, said, "I am more than willing to speak with the senator. There are very good explanations why the tapes were destroyed by our staff -- there was no purpose for them."

The letters

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) sent two letters to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell requesting information about the "Spygate" incident. The commissioner replied on Jan. 31. Read the letters:
• Specter to Goodell (.pdf)
• Goodell to Specter (.pdf)

There were six tapes, according to Goodell -- some from the 2007 preseason, and the rest from 2006. He also said they were destroyed in order to prevent leaks to the media, as one tape was leaked to the media just after the Patriots-New York Jets game in September 2007, when NFL security confiscated a video camera and tape from a Patriots video assistant during New England's 38-14 victory over New York at Giants Stadium.

"We wanted to take and destroy that information," Goodell said. "They may have collected it within the rules, but we couldn't determine that. So we felt that it should be destroyed."

The matter might not compare to the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes, Specter said Friday, but he added, "I do believe that it is a matter of importance. It's not going to displace the stimulus package or the Iraq war, but I think the integrity of football is very important, and I think the National Football League has a special duty to the American people -- and further the Congress -- because they have an antitrust exemption."

"It's a league matter," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday during his news conference. "I don't know anything about it."

Fish on Walsh

ESPN.com senior writer Mike Fish talks with ESPNews anchor Fred Hickman with insight on Matt Walsh and his potential role in the Patriots spy situation. Fish ESPN Video

Matt Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant who now is a golf pro at the Ka'anapli Golf Resort in Lahaina, Hawaii, has suggested to ESPN that he has information that could have exposed the Patriots prior to the situation at the Jets game, which ended with record fines.

"If I had a reason to want to go public or tell a story, I could have done it before it even broke," he told ESPN.com's Mike Fish. "I could have said everything rather than having [Jets coach Eric] Mangini be the one to bring it out."

Walsh, who worked for the Patriots from 1996 until the winter of 2002-03, when he was fired, also has suggested to ESPN that he has information that could be embarrassing for the NFL and the Patriots. He has not been contacted by the league.

"If they're doing a thorough investigation … they didn't contact me, so draw your own conclusions," Walsh told Fish.

Walsh said he hasn't made a decision on whether he will talk to Congress if asked, although he is considering it. He also was quoted in the Times' story Friday.

The Patriots play Sunday in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants.

The controversy started when a Patriots video assistant was accused of aiming his camera at the Jets' defensive coaches as they signaled to players on the field.

After the league investigation, Goodell fined Belichick $500,000, the maximum amount, and docked the team $250,000 and a first-round draft pick. It was the biggest fine for a coach and the first time in NFL history a first-round draft pick was confiscated as a penalty.

I do believe that it is a matter of importance. It's not going to displace the stimulus package or the Iraq war, but I think the integrity of football is very important, and I think the National Football League has a special duty to the American people -- and further the Congress -- because they have an antitrust exemption.

--Sen. Arlen Specter

After its investigation, the NFL said it destroyed all materials, including the six tapes it received from the Patriots.

Goodell said the tapes showed coaches making signals and showed indications of down and distances. According to the commissioner, one of the tapes showed an opposing coach waving to the cameraman as if he knew he was being taped.

"I think it probably had a limited effect -- if any -- on the outcome of any game," Goodell said.

He added: "I don't think it taints their accomplishments. I think the action that we took was decisive, and it was unprecedented and it sent a loud message not only to the Patriots but to every NFL team that you should follow the rules and you better follow the rules.

"I think what they did this season was certainly done within the rules and on a level playing field. And I think their record is extraordinary. We know it's never been done before at 18-0, and I think they should be congratulated on that."

In a Jan. 31 letter to Specter, which the senator released Friday, Goodell said the tapes and notes on the investigation were destroyed to ensure that the Patriots "would not secure any possible competitive advantage as a result of the misconduct."

Specter said the explanation "absolutely makes no sense at all" and blasted the commissioner for failing to respond to his inquiries into the matter for more than two months. His initial letter to the league was dated Nov. 15, 2007; the follow-up letter was dated Dec. 19. Goodell said in his letter to Specter that he just became aware of Specter's questions Thursday.

"There's a credibility issue here," Specter said.

Specter, a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan who still calls sports radio stations on Monday mornings, said he was concerned about the integrity of the sport.

"I don't think you have to have a law broken to have a legitimate interest by the Congress on the integrity of the game. … What if there was something on the tapes we might want to be subpoenaed, for example? You can't destroy it. That would be obstruction of justice," Specter said to The Times.

There is no timetable for when the committee would call upon Goodell.

The possibility exists that Patriots employees or other NFL personnel would have to testify before the committee.

"It's premature to say whom we're going to call or when," Specter said. "It starts with the commissioner. He had the tapes, and he made the decision as to what the punishment could be. He made the decision to destroy them."

Specter stopped short of alleging a cover-up, but he warned that the judiciary panel might want to probe the matter.

In the meantime, Specter said he might miss Sunday's game.

"I may play squash while it's on," Specter said.

Information from ESPN senior writer Mike Fish, ESPN producer Ben Houser and The Associated Press is included in this report.

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