WASHINGTON - Hold on, NFL. Spygate isn’t over. Not if an “incensed” senator from Pennsylvania has anything to do with it.
Sen. Arlen Specter on Wednesday called for an independent investigation of the New England Patriots’ taping of opposing coaches’ signals, possibly similar to the high-profile Mitchell Report on performance enhancing drugs in baseball.
“What is necessary is an objective investigation,” Specter said at a news conference in the Capitol. “And this one has not been objective.”
The Pennsylvania Republican was unforgiving of his criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, saying that Goodell has made “ridiculous” assertions that wouldn’t fly “in kindergarten.” The Senator said Goodell was caught in an “apparent conflict of interest” because the NFL doesn’t want the public to lose confidence in the league’s integrity.
“They are enormous role models for everybody,” Specter said. “If you can cheat in the NFL, you can cheat in college, you can cheat in high school, you can cheat on your grade-school math test. There’s no limit as to what you can do. I think they owe the public a lot more candor and a lot more credibility.”
Goodell essentially declared an end to Spygate after a 3½-hour meeting in New York on Tuesday morning with former New England video assistant Matt Walsh. Walsh supplied the league with videotapes of coaches’ signals made by the Patriots, but offered no new significant revelations about the cheating scandal that has threatened to taint the team’s three Super Bowl titles.
Goodell said afterward that the information from the interview with Walsh “was consistent with what we disciplined the Patriots for last fall,” when the commissioner docked the team a 2008 first-round draft pick and fined coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000.
But Specter held his own three-hour meeting with Walsh in Washington on Tuesday. He said Walsh detailed how the Patriots used videotaped signals to their advantage: an offensive player would memorize the signals, watch for them on the sideline and pass them on to assistant coach Charlie Weis, who would then inform quarterback Tom Brady.
“And they had some obviously good results,” Specter said.
The NFL released a statement later Wednesday.
“We respectfully disagree with Senator Specter’s characterization of the investigation conducted by our office. We are following up after yesterday’s meeting with Matt Walsh.”
Specter said he would prefer the NFL arrange the independent investigation and was willing to wait several months — while he continues to undergo chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s disease — before calling for Congress to take what he called “corrective action.” Such action could include hearings or a full-blown Mitchell Report-type investigation. He said public reaction would determine the NFL’s next step.
“I would hope that the commissioner would do this on his own,” Specter said.
Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts also weighed in.
“With the war in Iraq raging on, gasoline prices closing in on $4 a gallon, and Americans losing their homes at record rates to foreclosure, the United States Senate should be focusing on the real problems that Americans are struggling with,” the Democrat said. “I’m looking forward to another great Patriots season where they can let their play on the field speak for itself.”
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the team had no comment on Specter’s remarks.
Earlier Wednesday, the Boston Herald apologized for a story that said the Patriots videotaped a St. Louis Rams walkthrough before the 2002 Super Bowl.
In the apology, published in the newspaper’s Wednesday edition and posted on its Web site, the Herald said the story was based on sources “it believed to be credible.”
“We now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed,” the paper wrote.
“We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification. The Boston Herald regrets the damage done to the team by publication of the allegation, and sincerely apologizes to its readers and to the New England Patriots’ owners, players, employees and fans for our error.”
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