Goodell: Destroying Spygate tapes was 'right thing to do'

Updated: February 14, 2008, 2:01 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- Bill Belichick has been illegally taping opponents' defensive signals since he became the New England Patriots' coach in 2000, according to Sen. Arlen Specter, who said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told him that during a meeting Wednesday.

"There was confirmation that there has been taping since 2000, when Coach Belichick took over," Specter said.

Specter said Goodell gave him that information during the 1-hour, 40-minute meeting, which was requested by Specter so the commissioner could explain his reasons for destroying the Spygate tapes and notes.

"There were a great many questions answered by Commissioner Goodell," Specter, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the meeting. "I found a lot of questions unanswerable because of the tapes and notes had been destroyed."

Goodell said Belichick told him he believed the taping was legal; Goodell said he did not concur.

"He said that's always been his interpretation since he's been the head coach," the commissioner said. "We are going to agree to disagree on the facts."

Specter, from Pennsylvania, wants to talk to other league officials about what exactly was taped and which games may have been compromised.

"We have a right to have honest football games," he said.

Goodell noted that "we were the ones that disclosed" the Patriots' illegal taping of the New York Jets' defensive signals in Week 1 of last season. Further, Goodell said, they had an admission by Belichick.

"I have nothing to hide," Goodell said.

Goodell also told Specter that that he doesn't regret destroying the Spygate tapes or the notes.

"I think it was the right thing to do," Goodell said.

Still, Specter wants to know why penalties were imposed on Belichick before the full extent of the wrongdoing was known and the tapes destroyed in a two-week span. Asked if he thinks there was a coverup, Specter demurred.

"There was an enormous amount of haste," Specter said.

He scoffed at the reasons Goodell gave for destroying the tapes and notes, particularly about trying to keep them out of competitors' hands and because Belichick had admitted to the taping.

"What's that got to do with it? There's an admission of guilt, you preserve the evidence," Specter said. As for keeping the tapes out of the hands of others: "All you have to do is lock up the tapes."

Belichick was fined $500,000 and the team was fined $250,000 because of the Spygate incident. The Patriots also forfeited a first-round draft pick.

Specter has questioned the quality of the NFL's investigation into the matter and raised the possibility of congressional hearings if he wasn't satisfied with Goodell's answers. Specter also raised the threat of Congress canceling the league's antitrust exemption and reiterated that in the meeting with Goodell.

A league official clarified to ESPN's Chris Mortensen that the NFL's current proposal to Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh includes a legal guarantee that he will not be sued by the league or the Patriots for any information or material he would provide to the NFL.

As Goodell said, the proposal stipulates that Walsh must be truthful and return anything he took improperly.

Walsh has had no response, according to Goodell.

Walsh told The Associated Press last week during the Pro Bowl in Hawaii that he couldn't talk about allegations that he taped a walkthrough practice by the St. Louis Rams before the 2002 Super Bowl. New England, a two-touchdown underdog, won that game 20-17.

Specter said he, too, wanted to talk to Walsh and perhaps offer a different deal.

Goodell also said he reserves the right to reopen the investigation if more information is uncovered.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.