Roger Goodell works for the NFL team owners. According to a report by ESPN the Magazine and “Outside the Lines,” the commissioner took it easy on one of those owners during one major cheating scandal, leading him to go hard on the same owner’s team during another scandal years later in an effort to appease his other 31 bosses.
One team owner called the massive Deflategate punishment handed down by Goodell to owner Robert Kraft’s New England Patriots this year “a makeup call” for the commisioner’s mishandling of the Spygate controversy in 2007.
ESPN says it conducted interviews “with more than 90 league officials, owners, team executives and coaches, current and former Patriots coaches, staffers and players” and reviewed “previously undisclosed private notes from key meetings” before ultimately linking Goodell’s handling of the two scandals.
The resulting report, which appeared online Tuesday, also serves as a lengthy but fascinating look at the extent the Patriots allegedly have gone to in order to achieve an unfair advantage. During the Spygate era, the report says, “an entire system of covert videotaping was developed and a secret library created.” In addition, it says, opposing teams’ locker rooms or hotel rooms were raided in search of playsheets or playbooks, and visiting teams’ headsets would be jammed to interfere with the transmission of signals.
When Spygate came to light, Goodell acted quickly, especially by today’s standards. Within days, Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots were docked another $250,000 plus a first-round draft pick. Oh, and Goodell also had all the evidence in the case destroyed.
While some in the league were satisfied, the report says, “other owners, coaches, team executives and players were outraged by how little the league investigated what the Patriots’ cheating had accomplished in games.... The NFL’s explanation of why [evidence] was destroyed -- ‘So that our clubs would know they no longer exist and cannot be used by anyone,’ the league said at the time -- only made it worse for those who were critical.”
The report continues: “The view around much of the league was that Goodell had done a major favor for Kraft, one of his closest confidants who had extended critical support when he became the commissioner the previous summer. Kraft is a member of the NFL’s three-person compensation committee, which each year determines Goodell’s salary and bonuses.”
That helped set the stage for the aftermath of Deflategate, the most recent cheating scandal involving the Patriots. After an investigation by Ted Wells, Goodell came down hard on Kraft’s team, suspending quarterback Tom Brady four games without pay, fining the team $1 million and taking away two draft picks.
“To the many owners who saw the Patriots as longtime cheaters, it really didn’t matter that Goodell appeared eager, perhaps overeager, to show the rest of the NFL that he had learned the lessons of Spygate,” the ESPN report says. “One team owner acknowledges that for years there was a ‘jealous ... hater’ relationship among many owners with Kraft, the residue of Spygate. ‘It’s not surprising that there’s a makeup call,’ one team owner says. Another longtime executive says a number of owners wanted Goodell to ‘go hard on this one.’”
Kraft ultimately accepted the team punishment, but Brady fought his. After Goodell upheld his own ruling in an appeal, U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman overturned it last week.
Goodell denied that his Deflategate rulings had anything to do with Spygate.
“I can state that I’m not aware of any connection between the Spygate procedures and the procedures here” regarding Deflategate, Goodell told ESPN. “There is no connection in my mind between the two incidents.”