Your Move, Goodell: NFL Should Punish the Patriots for Taping the Bengals

It’s very possible that New England didn’t knowingly break league rules by filming the Cincinnati sidelines. But the team has lost the benefit of the doubt, and the commissioner should still dock the Patriots in some manner.
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Bill Belichick

Everywhere you go, people are saying the Patriots are finished. It’s ridiculous. If the Patriots are finished, why are they still cheating?

Settle down, that was a joke. But this isn’t: The NFL has to punish the Patriots again. How harshly, we don’t know—probably the loss of a draft pick. But the NFL has to hit the franchise for filming the Bengals’ sideline last week, and we know this for the strangest reason of all: The Patriots pleaded guilty, admitting that a production crew illegally taped the Cincinnati sideline from the press box. Really.

There is a lot of “we didn’t mean anything by it” in the above statement, but intent does not completely absolve the Patriots here. An employee cannot film the opponents’ sideline, even if coach Bill Belichick didn’t know about it, and even if the employee was merely gathering his offering for the Content Gods. If anybody knows that, it is—or should be—the Patriots.

As for New England’s alibi for DoYouReallyHaveToCheatToBeatTheBengalsGate: The team says it was filming a feature on an advance scout for its website. This may be absolutely true. The Pats also say the people who shot the video were “independent contractors,” which is a heck of a defense. How could they cheat? They don’t even have health insurance!

Again, it’s entirely possible, and maybe even likely, that the Patriots really didn’t mean to do anything illicit. Maybe Belichick didn’t know. Maybe the independent contractor did not know the rules. But it was unusual enough for somebody with the Bengals to notice and say something.

The Patriots are long out of excuses for this kind of transgression. They didn’t know it was illegal (even though the league issued a warning), they were filming field conditions, it’s all for a video feature … nobody in that league wants to hear any of these excuses anymore. There are reasons why many people in the league do not trust them.

There is a major question looming over all this: Was the advance scout sitting with the video crew when this happened? If so, why didn’t he say something? Of all the people on the planet who should know this is against NFL rules, anybody involved in Patriots’ advance scouting is at the top of the list. If this was an innocent mistake, why didn’t anybody with the Patriots stop it? How come the Bengals had to do it?

This requires a real investigation. Thankfully, Cincinnati has the tape. And if it shows nothing that you couldn’t see on TV, that is beside the point. Teams get punished for breaking rules, not for benefiting from breaking rules.

If you are already sick of this story, I can’t fault you. Football fans have heard about Spygate for 12 years. Deflategate lasted what feels like a century. But the league has no choice here, and commissioner Roger Goodell must know that. He has to punish the Patriots, somehow and some way, and if you think he is fired up about that … well, really? You think Goodell wants to deal with this again? Why? Because Deflategate was so much fun for him?

Goodell does not hate the Patriots and he does not want to punish them. He wants to help rich people get richer, and maybe present the Vince Lombardi Trophy one of these years without getting booed from here to Hades. But he has no choice, and like the Patriots, he put himself in this position.

Goodell botched Spygate by destroying the tapes, which made the league question his judgment and the Patriots. When the Patriots were accused of illegally deflating footballs, Goodell had to take it more seriously than he would with another team ... but then he botched that, too. After the Wells report concluded that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots intentionally deflated the balls, Goodell should have just punished the team by docking them draft picks and left Tom Brady alone. Patriots owner Robert Kraft would have stewed, but he would have accepted the punishment for the good of the league. Instead, Goodell suspended Brady, who sued the league, and the story never seemed to die.

So here we are. This is probably not egregious like Spygate. It may not get overcooked like Deflategate, and if it lasts as long, we will all need some serious medical help. This may all be, as the Patriots say, an innocent mistake. But it was still against the rules. Your move, Roger. Your move again.

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