Here is a link to my Wednesday column about Roger Goodell. The full text runs below:

What we learned is this: The NFL owners run their league like the Mafia runs its rackets. The Patriots cheat. Some of the Patriots’ wins, even in Super Bowls, are suspicious — as in not on the level. And Roger Goodell is a tool. just came out with an article putting Deflategate into context. And that context is the New England Patriots’ scandal known as Spygate, which the league — read Goodell — winked at with full approval of the owners who care more about appearance and abundant profit than silly stuff like doing the right thing.

Question to self: Why do I so worry about doing the right thing when those successful owners, who live a better life than I do, don’t seem to care?

Note to reader: ESPN’s article is required reading. It should win the Pulitzer Prize for reporting and analysis.

The article’s main point is Goodell, who looked like a fool during Spygate — more on that scandal in a moment — tried to reassert his authority and reputation, tried to get over on the Patriots this year by coming down extra hard on them and quarterback Tom Brady for allegedly deflating game balls on purpose. ESPN calls Goodell’s actions in Deflategate a “makeup call,” a pretty good way to understand the scandal. Fact is you can’t comprehend Goodell’s actions in Deflategate without looking back to Spygate.

Is this stuff good or what?

In 2008, Goodell determined the Patriots had videotaped opponents’ defensive signals for many years, had actually kept a secret library of videotapes of signals and corresponding plays and used them to win games. Not exactly kosher. The Patriots did other stuff, piddly stuff. The article alleges Patriots creatures would comb the visiting locker room during pregame warm-ups for play sheets detailing the first 20 offensive plays. It makes your flesh creep.

The Jets actually caught one Patriots operative, who posed as a media photographer and wore a vest with the designation “NFL PHOTOGRAPHER”, taping their defensive signals in a game. Things went public and got ugly and Goodell fined Belichick half a million dollars, fined the Patriots a quarter mil and took away a first-round draft pick.

It looked like Goodell acted with strength.

Did he?

According to the article, Goodell sent three executives to Gillette Stadium and, on Goodell’s orders, his people destroyed most of the evidence of the Patriots’ wrongdoing. Bad look for the league if this evidence went public. Some insiders assumed Goodell had done a solid for Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who had lobbied hard for Goodell to become commissioner in the first place. The shredding sure made Goodell look complicit with the Patriots and Belichick.

Which means Roger Goodell is most certainly a tool.

That brings us to the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl in February 2002, which New England won 20-17 on a last-second field goal. Big upset. Word has spread through the league ever since that the Patriots cheated and Belichick was the prime cheater. I had heard these rumors — although I don’t believe they are mere rumors.

One former NFL assistant coach told me years ago what coaches on that Patriots team told him. Belichick ordered at least one video guy to position himself in the press box and tape the Rams’ walk-through. The ESPN article says three Patriots video operators did the job. The former NFL assistant told me, after the unethical videotaping, Belichick called his defensive players together and said if they happened to see certain Rams formations on offense, they should do such and such.

Happened to see?

Mike Martz, Rams head coach for that Super Bowl, still believes the Patriots did something fishy. He said it was like the Patriots knew which offensive plays the Rams were running, some plays the Rams had not used until then.

Later, Goodell placed a phone call to Martz, who by now was offensive coordinator at the 49ers, and asked Martz to assert the Patriots had not cheated and the NFL’s investigation had been squeaky clean. Martz agreed to go along for the good of the league, to avoid a Congressional hearing led by Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter who thought the NFL’s investigation of Spygate and the Patriots stunk. Martz wrote a statement absolving the league but, later, when he read his statement it was not what he had written.

That Super Bowl was definitive in the careers of Belichick and Martz. Martz lost the game and began his decline. He now is out of football. Belichick won his first Super Bowl and became universally acknowledged as the best head coach in the NFL.

Understand the ESPN article does not claim irrefutable proof Belichick cheated before the Super Bowl with the Rams. It invites the reader to draw his/her own conclusion. I believe Belichick cheated and is a serial cheater. Belichick is such an unpleasant character with that robotic monotone voice and that pinched gas-in-the-colon expression on his face, wearing that hoodie and looking like a man who lives in the moral shadows.

Goodell swept all the Patriots misdeeds under the rug with his hefty fine and the forfeiture of a draft pick. And in a way that helped the league. But he also hurt the league. It looked like a league of Mafia dons, playing with the truth — inventing the truth.

And then came Tom Brady and the deflated footballs. Goodell wanted to get tough, to get even with the Patriots who had tarnished his image — he allowed them to tarnish his image. So, he took on the Patriots. Went to the mat in Deflategate.

And he lost. Lost in court. Made the league look bad all over again. Made the NFL look weak.

Goodell never knows when to take a stand. Or which stand to take. Or how to read a room. Or how to beat the Patriots. Or how to show he’s not owned by Robert Kraft. Or how to win even when he’s right.


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