The news that Senator Arlen Specter is going to call Roger Goodell before the Senate Judiciary committee should come as no surprise. After all, this is the same senator who brought you the single bullet theory of the Warren Report, the man who insulted women at two separate Supreme Court appointment hearings in 1992 and 2004, and also quipped that our current Attorney General, “smokes Dutch Cleaner”.Nonetheless, Specter has also been known as a sharp legal mind, and one who will not back away from an issue if he believes he is right. It was not too long ago that Specter lobbied to have a hearing in his hometown Philadelphia to bring Comcast Cable to task for their high prices for what he considered inferior product.
As such, at first blush this new cry for a hearing in the Senate seems as though Specter is giving a royal summons for Goodell to appear before Congress. Perhaps a call similar to the one Bud Selig had to answer to on Capitol Hill not too long ago. However, there is more below the surface of this issue than what Specter is leading America to believe.
Back in week 1 of the NFL season Patriots’ videographer Matt Estrella was detained for possession of a video camera in a non-sanctioned area of the stadium. The camera and accompanying video tapes were confiscated and sent to the NFL headquarters in New York. The following week Goodell appointed league executives to investigate the matter of the videotaping of the Jets game and their signals. The Patriots were asked to send six tapes from the 2006 season as well as the 2007 preseason, to which they complied.
After examining the tapes the NFL executives determined that there was no competitive advantage gained from the videos, but that the Patriots had violated the league rules by having a camera in an area that was designated as off limits to team officials. The NFL manual dictates that no camera can be present on the sidelines, in the coordinator’s box, or in the locker room. Subsequently, Belichick was personally fined $500,000, and the Patriots were fined $250,000 in addition to losing a first round pick in the 2008 draft. At this point the NFL office believed the unprecedented penalty was sufficient, and that further investigation into the matter was not warranted.
Then on September 16, 2007 Fox aired a portion of the video footage that was obtained covertly from the NFL office. As a result Greg Aiello, a top NFL executive, declared that the video tapes would be destroyed in the interest of averting any further leaking of the videos that could be used against any of the teams filmed.
Two months later, in November, Specter sent his first inquiry into the matter of the destruction of the Patriots tapes and what was in the contents of said tapes. Specter now publicly claims this act is an obstruction of justice. Senator Specter’s supposition is puzzling when the only definition of obstruction that is even close to this situation is, “destruction, alteration or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy.” There is no analogy to be drawn to the CIA agents destroying video of interrogations relating to the events of September 11, 2001, because no Federal agency or other law enforcement group was investigating the matter of ‘Spygate’. The troubling part of all of this is that the Senator cites this alleged obstruction as a concern for the integrity of the game of football. He also purports that this makes it an issue for Congress to tackle because of the anti-trust exemption afforded the NFL in their broadcasting rights. Yet in the absence of any previous investigation on the part of Congress at the time of the destruction of the tapes there seems to be little basis for a Senate hearing.
But then Specter tipped his hand in one of his more recent press conferences. The Honorable Senator declared that he had been weighing his options on challenging the NFL’s anti-trust exemption for quite some time. The exemption in question was granted under the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act. This legislation allows the NFL to negotiate with networks on the behalf of all 32 teams without governmental interference.
It seems curious that in Specter’s first letter to Commissioner Goodell that he only asks for information pertaining to Super Bowl XXXVIIII in which his own home team, the Philadelphia Eagles, was defeated by a narrow margin. The destroyed tapes in question were not from the 2004 season, but rather the 2006 and 2007 preseason. Goodell would be at a loss to provide evidence and information that he did not possess.
Senator Specter has a conflict of interest in this matter. He is first and foremost a representative of the constituents of Pennsylvania. Within this state reside two businesses; Comcast and the Philadelphia Eagles. As an avid fan of the Eagles, there is no question as to why the Senator has a vested interest in any Patriots film of his team’s signals or plays. There should be some wonder as to why the Senator began his quest for an amendment to the NFL’s anti-trust exemption in December 2006, just about the time that Comcast and the NFL Network were in a heated showdown over broadcast rights to football games. A personal agenda on the part of the Senator is emerging behind the guise of official Congressional business.