By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL has many different strategies when it comes to pursuing “justice” among its many teams and players. Sometimes, the league makes stuff up, lies about it, and then sticks to the original made-up case anyway, which is what took place in “DeflateGate.” Other times, the league ignores a lack of evidence and a recommendation from its own lead investigator and chooses to issue punishment anyway, which is what happened with Ezekiel Elliott. Still other times, the league tries to sweep a story under a rug in hopes that nobody finds out, which is what happened with Josh Brown.
Now, in the case of the Patriots having a staffer film a football field during a football game, the NFL has employed a new strategy: Wait so long to release results in the hopes that quite literally everybody on the face of the earth has forgotten any and all details.
And you know, for 99 percent of the population, it will absolutely work. Not many folks — especially those living outside of the six New England states, and especially those who are more concerned these days with beach parking and virus avoidance — can remember anything about the incident in question, outside of a Pats employee getting caught red-handed while pointing a camera at the field during an otherwise miserably boring Browns-Bengals game.
And so, just like “Pats deflated footballs” became the prevailing narrative years ago, such will assuredly be the case this time.
Alas, some of us actually paid attention to what happened in that sad press box scene in Cleveland. And to anyone who actually followed the saga, the stripping of a third-round pick for this particular offense is unquestionably obscene.
1. No ties whatsoever were found between entertainment department and football operations.
The videographer in question was working on an online video feature spotlighting a Patriots advanced scout, who was in Cleveland to watch the 1-11 Bengals take on the 5-7 Browns. The “Do Your Job” video series highlighted a lot of work done behind the scenes for the Patriots, including the equipment staff, the scouting staff, the trainers, and the video staff. It’s all on the internet.
Folks working in that department work for Kraft Sports And Entertainment; they don’t work for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots football team.
That would seemingly be an important matter at hand here, as even if the videographer decided to steal all the secrets of the Cincinnati Bengals with a video camera, he wouldn’t have access to the football staff to pass along all of that classified content.
Speaking of that content …
2. It was B-roll. That’s all it was. Watch it, for goodness’ sake. It’s B-roll.
When you’re putting together a 10-minute feature about a scout who watches a football game, you’re going to need some footage to cover the interview. And considering his entire job involves watching a football game from a press box and taking notes, it would then follow that a videographer might obtain some footage of what it is that the scout is watching. (You can only get so many shots of the scout watching the game before you have produced the single most boring video in the history of video cameras, football, and the internet.)
So, watch the damn footage, and ask yourself this: Does this video give anyone any more information that Larry in section 309 could have gained with his own two eyeballs and/or an iPhone 6.
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) December 15, 2019
There’s no zooming in on coaches. There’s no tight shots of any signals. You can’t read anybody’s play card.
All you can see is a sideline full of human beings during a football game.
And it stands to reason that this is the juiciest, most “damning” footage obtained by the NFL, because this is what (presumably) the Bengals leaked to Jay Glazer. If there was more damning evidence, surely the Bengals would have wanted to get that out to the public.
So there it is. There’s the shocking footage that cost the Patriots … a third-round pick?
That’s utterly absurd.
3. It was not sneaky.
The Patriots’ crew was initially set up in the third row of the press box, behind everyone else. When the videographer decided to record this footage, he moved up to the front row of the press box to get a better shot. In doing so … he moved directly in front of a row of Bengals employees.
Now, let me ask you this: If you had a plan to secretly record footage for the purpose of obtaining the deep, dark secrets of the Cincinnati Bengals, would you move up to the front row, directly in front of employees of the team you’re filming?
Dear reader, you would not. You would instead remain in the back row where nobody could see what you’re doing, perhaps shrouded in secrecy under the hood of your Boston Bruins sweatshirt.
The Patriots' seats were supposed to be in the third row, behind the Bengals personnel. When a Bengals employee spotted the videotaping, it was in the first row, directly in front of that whole bay of Bengals staffers. https://t.co/fGXqPeEkBI
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) December 11, 2019
Here’s what a source told The Boston Globe back in December: “There was nothing covert about the incident Sunday, the source said. ‘You would not go in wearing a Bruins shirt, put a camera on a tripod in the press box, and hope nobody notices,’ the source said.”
If this was indeed a secret mission, then it was the worst secret mission in the history of espionage. What’s more likely is that it was an honest mistake made by somebody who wasn’t really thinking.
BONUS: The “Damage Is Done, My Friend” guy is a huge nerd.
This one is technically neither here nor there … but it’s also extremely here and there.
When the Bengals busted the videographer, the security employee acted as if he had just blown open the Watergate scandal. He acted as if he had just solved a 100-year-old mystery. He acted as if he had just apprehended Al Capone.
When the Patriots employee not only showed the footage to security but also offered to hand it over so that the Patriots would no longer possess the footage that contained all of the Bengals’ secrets.
The security employee rebuffed the offer, scoffing at the criminal in custody while dramatically stating, “The damage is done, my friend.”
It was right out of a cheesy ’50s Western. The damage is done, my friend.
Sir! This is footage of a bunch of players’ and coaches’ backs, taken from the upper deck of a stadium. I can assure you, no damage has been done.
The man used a catchphrase!
That man’s overwhelming goober vibes shouldn’t really play a factor in this decision, you know. But they also cannot be ignored.
4. The NFL was “frustrated” that it couldn’t connect Belichick to the video operation.
An impartial investigation seeks truth. A compromised, heavily slanted, predetermined investigation gets frustrated when it can’t set out to prove what it had hoped to find.
We’ll give you two guesses which one the NFL ran in this case.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported this in late December, when people thought the investigation might be wrapping up shortly (ha ha ha ha ha):
“League investigators also collected devices from certain individuals, for the purposes of attempting to establish a connection to the team’s football operations. As one source explained it, there’s a sense that investigators want to make that connection, and a perception that they are showing frustration when unable to tie the video crew to the football employees.”
The league wanted to bust the Patriots. The league tried to catch Belichick cheating. And the league got frustrated when it failed to do so.
Are you seeing what’s going on yet?
Two full months later (!!!), the “investigation” was reportedly close to wrapping up. It was then, in late February, when the league conducted its final interview. Now remember, these interviews revolved around footage taken in December — footage which was turned over immediately to the NFL. And the Patriots fessed up to what happened the very next day, admitting to everything that happened. It was a fairly straightforward event.
Despite that, after concluding interviews two months later, it took another month, and then another month, and then another month, and then (impossibly) one more month for the NFL to come up with this decision.
No matter who you are or what you seek in life, there is simply no denying that this “investigation” was a complete and utter sham, and that Roger Goodell was always going to drop his hammer, if only because he can and he likes to.
5. If you’re looking for comparables, you won’t find any.
As you surely learned with “DeflateGate,” the complete lack of precedence or guilt won’t stop the NFL from enforcing unheard-of levels of discipline.
In this case, the big hit is the third-round draft pick. With all due respect to the Kraft family, a $1.1 million fine is closer to nothing than something for people with that kind of wealth. The Patriots’ team video crew being unable to shoot road games doesn’t really matter to anyone. Training on NFL policies for “senior club officials” likewise means little to anybody.
It’s the stripping of that third-round pick that really makes this punishment go above and beyond the standard fare for NFL discipline for any team not named the Patriots. (The Cowboys have gotten a couple of raw deals, though, while the Giants have gotten off easy on a couple of occasions, which speaks to some other inherent bias seeping through the NFL front office. But that’s a different story for a different day in a different city.)
When the Falcons were found guilty of pumping in artificial crowd noise to their stadium (something that provided an actual competitive advantage), the team was only stripped of a fifth-round pick. Falcons president Rich McKay was temporarily suspended from his position on … THE COMPETITION COMMITTEE. (!) But fear not — he regained that position less than four months later … in the same offseason during which he was suspended. From the competition committee.
Former Browns GM Ray Farmer was found guilty to have been sending mid-game text messages to team personnel on the sidelines. Farmer was suspended for four games, and the Browns were fined $250,000. But no draft picks were taken.
In 2015, when the Jets were found guilty of tampering with Darrelle Revis (who was under contract with the Patriots at the time of the tampering), the league punished the Jets by fining them … $100,000. No draft picks. Interestingly, a few months later, the NFL found the Chiefs guilty of tampering with Jeremy Maclin, and the league stripped the Chiefs of a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick while also issuing a $250,000 fine to the team, a $75,000 fine to head coach Andy Reid and a $25,000 fine to then-GM John Dorsey. So that’s $300,000 in fine money, plus two picks for tampering … compared to $100,000 in fine money and zero picks for tampering.
That’s the NFL, baby.
Oh, and let’s not forget Giants head coach Ben McAdoo using a walkie-talkie on the sideline in 2016, a clear violation of the rules, done in front of the world. For that … the Giants had their pick at No. 130 overall moved to No. 140 overall. Severe! The Giants were fined $150,000 while McAdoo was hit with a $50,000 fine, and the NFL’s “investigation” took two months … instead of seven.
Speaking of New York teams, it’s also worth noting that the Jets never faced any punishment for filming from an unapproved location against the Patriots in 2006.
This past season, a Ravens employee was shown on camera wearing a Bluetooth device in his ear. Such devices are not allowed on a sideline, and the employee’s proximity to head coach John Harbaugh would seemingly raise some eyebrows in the league office … if it was a matter involving the Patriots. As it was, it involved the Ravens, so nothing has come of that.
The Ravens also had or have a 360-degree camera system in their stadium, which produced some cool replays. It also provided crisp, clear images of opponents’ sidelines … which is apparently a big no-no for some teams, but not for others.
Now, obviously (OBVIOUSLY!) we can’t pretend like the Patriots’ history would not factor in to this equation. If you go back and read some of the details about the efforts the Patriots went to in order to obtain field-level footage of sidelines during the Spygate era, then you’d know that the extreme punishment of a first-round pick being stripped was the result of Goodell sending a message that he had no desire to play chicken with anyone — even a head coach with Belichick’s standing. That history — which could have been avoided if the Patriots merely filmed sidelines from a different location — was always going to be weighed this time around.
But at the same time, upon even the most basic examination of the facts and events of this incident, no reasonable person could ever compare the two events. Nevertheless, despite the lack of any evidence of football wrongdoing, and despite no comparable incidents with no comparable punishments, Goodell opted to issue an extreme punishment once again.
But that was to be expected. After all, ignoring precedence and flying by the seat of their pants is the NFL’s modus operandi when it comes to any potential violation. Nobody knows that better than the Patriots, and the latest punishment can be added to the ever-growing heap of heavy-handed punishments that somehow still have not brought the Patriots back to the rest of the NFL pack.