Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Can You Really Spy on Someone in Full View of 70,000 Fans and A National TV Audience?

I have mentioned repeatedly (including here and here) that the whole so-called "Spygate" situation has been overblown by the media and by Senator Arlen Specter, whose friends at Comcast have an ax to grind with the NFL. My take has always been that it is ludicrous to call something "spying" when the information in question is readily available to anyone who is watching the game on TV. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick made exactly the same point in his May 16 interview with Armen Keteyian of CBS News:

It wasn't anything that wasn't visible or wasn't available. We did it in a way that was more convenient and a way that we could study a little bit better. But those signals are available to anybody that wants to see them.

Here is the complete video of the interview:

You can read the complete transcript of the interview here. If you don't have the time or inclination to go through the entire thing, at least read this excerpt in which Belichick explains that the Patriots did not even attempt to hide what they were doing because he believed their actions to be in full compliance with NFL rules:

He (the cameraman) was in full Patriots gear. I could show you videos of him doing his job during the game, shooting the shot that he shot from the end zone--the kickers, the tight on the quarterback and, at times, signals--and there was no, we weren't trying to be discreet about it. Again, in all honesty we felt like what we were doing was okay...My interpretation of the rules came from the Constitution & Bylaws. In, I think it's paragraph 14 in there, the Constitution & Bylaws states very clearly that you cannot use any type of videotaping device or anything like that from the start of the game to the conclusion of the game. And that was never done. We never, ever used any of the videotaping in any way during the course of any game. And that's what I felt like I was in compliance with and that's my basis for really everything that we've done in terms of competing in the National Football League...It was never used during the playing of the game. Never. Now, subsequently there was a memo that Ray Anderson sent out at the beginning of the 2006 season, and that was an error on my part. I take full accountability for that. At that point I feel like I should have gone to the league--I made a mistake, I should have gone to the league and said 'Look, are we okay doing this even though we're not using it within the game?' And I didn't do that, we continued to do what we had done previously--at times, it wasn't every game, but it was a significant number--and did it based on the constitution and feeling like as long as we weren't using it during the game, that it was okay...I'm telling you what happened and that's what happened. I think if that (being deceptive) was our intent then we would have done it in a more discreet way. We were open about it. We had instances where opposing coaches actually turned and waved to the camera. They saw it. There were other teams that we felt like were doing it. Again, look, in the preparation for a game, the signals that a coach gives out there everybody can see. We've had coaches in the pressbox take notes of those signals, we've videotaped them. It wasn't anything that wasn't visible or wasn't available. We did it in a way that was more convenient and a way that we could study a little bit better. But those signals are available to anybody that wants to see them.

I have not been able to find the "Spygate" videos online but SportsCenter had a great clip of someone--presumably Matt Walsh--standing under a huge stadium scoreboard in full Patriots regalia openly filming the field. The only way he could have been more visible is if he had worn a Bozo the Clown nose and started waving giant semaphore flags. There is no way that any objective person could watch that tape and conclude that the Patriots were trying to hide what they were doing. They committed a technical violation of an NFL rule and were heavily punished for that but to call them "cheaters," to imply that this was some kind of covert operation or to suggest that the Patriots' Super Bowl wins are in any way tainted is absurd--and for Specter to call for a Congressional investigation of the violation of an NFL rule is ridiculous. Should Congress investigate holding penalties and pass interference calls, too? Any analogy made between "Spygate" and the performance-enhancing drugs problem is bogus because PED usage without a prescription is illegal and represents a potential public health problem, particularly for young athletes who look up to stars like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

No comments: