Does Goodell want to know what Walsh has on tape?

By Ron Borges
Feb. 26, 2008

Sounding not at all like Franklin D. Roosevelt, they all say they have nothing to fear but fear itself. If that’s the case, then why is it so difficult to agree not to sue a former low-level employee of the Patriots in exchange for taking a peek at his video collection and possibly listening to his audio collection?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

Commissioner Roger Goodell kept saying for weeks that “no one wants to talk with Matt Walsh more than we do,” after which he sent a guy from NFL security — former FBI agent Dick Farley — to investigate him at his former places of employment. Way to open a guy up to a chat.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter has become more than an interested spectator in what has become the embarrassing mess called Spygate II, which might morph into Audiogate I, as well, if Walsh has any of the tape recordings of conversations between himself and Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli that Walsh has been accused of making. Specter was so interested in the matter that he forced Goodell to come to his office in Washington. The senator was told the commissioner knew Farley worked for him but claimed he didn’t know Farley was investigating anybody.

That admission came after Goodell had insisted that destroying the evidence in Spygate I before he’d even seen it wasn’t all that unusual. He sounded like he could move right into management with the LAPD.

Goodell has unwisely treated this as the NFL treats most things — as a public-relations problem. He says he acted swiftly when the first charges were leveled at Bill Belichick for cheating, although we now have learned he acted so swiftly he fined Belichick four days before the Patriots produced the notes and tapes he sought. How do you punish someone before you know what he did?

Then, it turns out, Goodell had his minions, including an attorney named Jeff Pash, who should have known better, destroy the evidence while they were in Foxborough, a move Goodell defends as “the right thing to do.” How is destroying evidence the right thing to do?

That action now calls into question the alleged “leaking” of a portion of one of those tapes to Fox-TV news maven Jay Glazer. At the time, Goodell was supposedly outraged, yet now we have learned that the tapes were destroyed by Pash and NFL vice president Ray Anderson while they were in Foxborough at the instruction of Goodell. What that means, if Goodell is to be believed, is that either the Patriots leaked it to make themselves look bad or Goodell’s office did it because if they destroyed the tapes in Foxborough, no one else would have ever had access to them.

No wonder Sen. Specter said of Goodell’s explanations, “The words ‘absurd’ and ‘ridiculous’ keep coming to my mind because he says it with a straight face.”

Belichick himself came out with a forceful denial of ever having seen a tape of the Rams’ pre-Super Bowl XXXVI walk-through or of any practice of any opponent at any time, for that matter. He didn’t mention, or his inquisitor never asked, if anyone in his employ had ever seen such a thing, broke it down and delivered him the information. That is, in fact, how it most often works for the head coach. Others break down the film, run the computer analysis and then deliver the information.

No one is saying that’s what happened in this case because no one yet knows if a tape of the Rams’ final practice before Super Bowl XXXVI existed, but a head coach denying he ever saw it means only that. Why would he? That’s why he employs a Boy Scout troop full of wide-eyed men like Walsh was when he first came to New England as a P.R. intern.

Denials by Belichick and the Patriots mean very little, as do claims by Goodell about how badly the NFL wants to speak with Walsh, the former Patriots videographer who is now a golf pro in Hawaii.

The fact is that if the Patriots have nothing more to hide — they already were caught red-handed running an illegal taping operation of opposing coaches flashing sideline signals despite having been specifically reminded by a league memo to all head coaches and general managers not to do it and then tried to weasel out of it by claiming a loophole in the rule that didn’t exist — all they had to do from the start is release Walsh from the unusual non-disclosure agreement they forced him to sign when they fired him.

The same is true for Goodell and the league. If they wanted to talk with Walsh as badly as they say, they could have given him blanket indemnity from any lawsuit filed by the Patriots and been done with it. They also could have picked up the phone and called anyone he once worked for and asked if he had worked there, if all they were doing was “confirming his employment,” as Goodell claimed. They didn’t have to send a former FBI agent to those employers in an effort to intimidate Walsh.

Where Spygate II and Audiogate I end up is anyone’s guess. All football fans should hope it ends up where the Patriots say it will, which is with nothing to fear but fear itself. But there’s a nagging feeling that there’s more to this. Why would you say you’ve kept videotapes for years that you say you can use against your old employer if you don’t have them? Why would you feel the need to audiotape phone conversations with an ex-boss, in this case Pioli, unless he was saying things that worried you?

It’s unlikely that the Collected Tapes of Scott Pioli will ever win a Grammy, so what was being said on them? Even more alarming: Why, when Matt Walsh was fired five years ago, did the Patriots feel compelled to force a kid whom Belichick claimed he “couldn’t identify in a lineup” to sign a non-disclosure agreement before he left? Disclose what?

One has to wonder just how badly Roger Goodell really wants to know the answer to that question.

JMHO: How long does Goodell have before the NFL owners throw him under the bus as being unpure from the entire incident?