By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The recent history ESPN has with the Patriots — and, consequently, Patriots fans — has been a bit messy. From Chris Mortensen’s inaccurate DeflateGate report that was left without a correction for several months, to SportsCenter’s multiple references to a filmed walkthrough that never actually happened, to the ESPN public editor being a loyal Jets fan with a history of tweeting jokes about the Patriots cheating as well as sharing disdain for the organization and its fan base, there’s certainly a bit of a disconnect between the network and professional football fans in the Northeast.
And now, for whatever reason, ESPN radio and TV host Dan Le Batard wants to make that relationship worse. Much worse.
In the middle of his program on Tuesday, he launched into the following tirade against the Patriots:
“I have found that fan base to be — and this is, I’m speaking in generalities here — hugely
humoroushumorless (Dan checked in to correct the transcription error) and so serious about their teams that it prevents them from seeing humor. So, you point out that their receivers are white, or you do what I did on Twitter today …
… they don’t get the sarcasm.”
That was the beginning. After ranting about how the people who couldn’t pick up on the “sarcasm” of that tweet must have been unintelligent, he continued:
“I don’t understand why it is that that fan base — and their radio show hosts are dopes … . God, I’m always fighting with the people in that fan base, because they feel persecuted, right?
“They haven’t actually cheated. They don’t actually have a murderer who was a tight end. All those things happened to them through injustice.
“It’s a fairly amazing thing. I’m guessing that I’m guessing they don’t think that they’ve cheated. They think they’re persecuted at every turn. I think that they’ve done a funny rationalization where they think because they’ve won so much, everyone is out to get them and have invented all of these things that are cheating, that are outside the rules that they’ve been punished for by their league.
“I do believe that they’ve created a delusion, where they believe that they’ve just been wronged at every turn. And they’ve beaten everybody, that everybody is working against them — the officials, the league, everybody. God forbid there have been a couple of bad calls in one of these playoff games, they would have gotten to the point where they thought that [Roger] Goodell did that on purpose.”
A co-host then brought up the snow plow game from 1982 as well as the drunken fan pulling the fire alarm last week as more evidence of the cheating culture that persists in the Patriots organization. Because the freaking snow plow game is relevant in 2017, and because the random guy who pulled the fire alarm in the Steelers’ hotel obviously got the code red order from Bill Belichick directly, these were great points.
Earlier in the show, Le Batard said this:
“Here’s the thing that I want to get into as the larger point, because Boston fans are mad at me and I just marvel at the idea that you’ve got a fan base that has the following things are both true about that fan base: they have a persecution complex, and they have been persecuted. That fan base behaves as if all the cheating was wrongdoing done upon them. The fan base feels like a victim, that ‘the league and ESPN and everyone is conspiring against our excellence in a way that is evil and jealous and we’re not guilty of wrongdoing. The media and the league is guilty of wrongdoing by making us look like we’re guilty of wrongdoing.’
“That’s a fairly amazing thing that’s happening.”
Co-host Greg Cote criticized Tom Brady for never being “contrite” or apologizing. Cote criticized Brady for feeling wronged.
Co-host Stugotz added Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick to the “feel like they’ve been wronged” bucket.
Then Le Batard started up again:
“I just find that part of it all fascinating, that you have this incredible disconnect, where the nation at large thinks that you cheat and have cheated, that it doesn’t end up actually mattering very much that you cheated (because it’s just something that we talk about; we still honor your trophies in a way that doesn’t make them stained).
“It’s not benign when your quarterback gets suspended for a quarter of the season! That’s not a benign thing! You don’t see that happen a whole lot. Ben Roethlisberger is still carrying around in some ways the stigma — now obviously it’s a lot worse of a crime — but the stigma he’s carrying around of being suspended by the league for something that was never proven either.”
Stugotz, a Jets fan, said it’s “debatable” whether Brady should have ever been suspended.
Le Batard responded:
“That’s fine, but what I find interesting about all of it, the NFL’s investigation and everything else, is normally — this is what’s amazing about this — normally if the league cracks down on a cheater — Shawne Merriman, any league, any cheater! — how often is the investigation flawed? How often … because that’s given the Patriots the rationalization into, ‘Well we’re persecuted, because the investigation was muddled.’ Usually a league gongs you for cheating, and that’s it. You cheated. It’s not muddied.”
If I might interject: Richard Sherman was suspended for PED use. He appealed the suspension (he was not “contrite” and he did not “apologize”) and won, because his initial urine cup was leaking and was then placed inside another container. That was a breach of protocol, and so Sherman won the appeal on a technicality. However, does anyone think of “cheater” when they see Sherman on TV? Do most people even remember this incident? Of course not.
But all of this, really, was just the build-up to Le Batard falling flat on his face.
Here it is:
“And this has happened multiple times to this particular organization. And the first one was not a joke. It wasn’t this, it wasn’t Ted Wells muddied. The first one, they cheated. They did. They were spying on practices. Period.”
As has been made clear by the outlet that incorrectly reported the filmed walkthrough, and as Le Batard’s employer has publicly issued an apology over, the filming of practices never happened.
The fact that Le Batard doesn’t even know this basic bit of information doesn’t bode well for how much brainpower he invested into following the NFL-driven “DeflateGate” soap opera.
And yet, he wonders why people in New England might get upset from time to time. In Le Batard’s own words, that is fairly amazing.
Of course, Le Batard doesn’t understand the problem:
“I just find interesting this particular tension that we’re talking about where Patriots organization and Patriots fans — that’s a giant disconnect, Greg, between doing wrong and feeling wronged. Because if you ask the Patriots and their fan base, my guess is that their view of that team is, ‘We’ve done everything 100 percent above board.’ And that is not the reputation that they have.”
Again, Bill Belichick has admitted to ignoring a league memo in 2007 and he also apologized for doing so, but there’s less than a zero chance that Le Batard remembers that. Le Batard is also more than likely unaware that the violation involved the filming of signals on sidelines from the wrong location and not the filming of signals on the sidelines at all. Le Batard could check out his employer’s own website at ESPN.com to learn that the Patriots were punished for filming from a location that was not “enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead.”
The memo specified that it was the location of the cameras that had rules on it: “Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.”
Somehow, the first part of that sentence became the driver of the Spygate narrative, and it’s likely that Le Batard never even made it that far to begin with.
Here’s Le Batard’s grand finale:
“And so that fan base ends up talking about both the league and the media conspiring to be out to get them. What do you make of that disconnect?”
Well, Dan, if you’d like me to answer your question, I’d estimate that the fan base just wants more members of the media to do a little bit of homework — and perhaps learn from the numerous mistakes of their own employer — before speaking to a national audience at length about the “cheating.” That’s all.