It's become the latest firestorm pushed by the MSM, in this case the sports edition of the MSM. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is being ripped all over the NFL because a videographer for the Patriots was taping the sidelines of the New York Jets during the Patriots' 38-14 massacre of the Jets. Eric Mangini of the Jets had NFL security seize the camera, reportedly coming after a scuffle between the teams' dueling security units.
The camera is the center of a fit of folderol involing "illegal videotaping of defensive signals." The problem with the story is that the NFL rule supposedly forbidding the use of recording devices against opposing sidelines for use during a game is quite vague, and does not particularly forbid recording defensive players or signals for file footage. It is also telling that the NFL, despite repeated warning to the Patriots about this, made no effort to enforce the rule, an indication the league found it vague as well and suggests Belichick was sincere in misinterpreting the rule.
Call it finding and exploiting a loophole, but one strains to find any serious reason to feel the Patriots were engaged in cheating, brazen of otherwise. As former player Keyshawn Johnson has pointed out, this is scouting, legitimate gathering of information for the team - Roger Goodell's press release following the announcement of the fine acknowledged that the videotaping was irrelevent to the Jets game - and the patent absurdity of criticism comes out in the frequent comparisons, by Brett Favre, Frank Deford, and others, with stealing signs in baseball, with sign-stealing frequently defended, notably by Favre and even more notably by Deford, who was quoted calling it legitimate after condemning Belichick for what he did; Deford offered an absurd alibi by claiming it was legitimate if not done with "artificial enhancements" such as binoculars - you can steal signs if you're in the dugout, but you are crossing the line if you're in the grandstands using binoculars. This is idiocy squared and doesn't answer an obvious question - what's so sacrosanct about defensive signals, viewable by the stadium audience and on television, anyway?
But the attack dogs are straining to destroy Bill Belichick, and a fairly typical example is here, though this particular piece includes implausible inference that the Patriots were jamming opposing teams' radio signals between coaches - never mind that the NFL controls radios used during games. Indeed, some of the quotes attributed to coaches such as Charlie Weis are simply not believable, and the piece's extensive use of unnamed sources is troubling - if for no other reason than it has set off some writers/radio hosts such as Michael Felger of ESPN Radio, who spent Thursday on the airwaves with notorious ex-Patriots beat writer Ron Borges peddling self-evident ignorance and mendacity to attack Belichick.
Side note: Felger's lack of credibility on the Patriots stems from unctuous coverage of the Deion Branch contract brouhaha in 2006; Felger ripped the release of Branch and claimed the Patriots' receiver corps was too weak to be competitive, yet as Tom Casale pointed out on Felger's own radio show the day after the Patriots destroyed the San Diego Chargers, Felger flip-flopped when the Patriots went 12-4 and won playoff games with receivers Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney in the 2006 season. Felger of course lied about it in response.
In reading and hearing the varied attacks on Belichick, the theme is repeated about the "arrogance" of the Patriots - how Belichick would not shake the hand of Peyton Manning or Eric Mangini, how the Patriots did a mocking spoof of Shawne Merriman's idiotic sack dance after beating San Diego in the 2006 playoffs, and often includes the ridiculous story (first peddled by the Boston Globe as a hit piece against Belichick) that he threw former player Ted Johnson into full-contact drills even though Johnson had concussions, a story sourced entirely to Johnson, who was trying to explain away several anti-social acts on his part to concussions, and which had neither other corroborating evidence or even basic plausibility.
The problem with the arrogance argument is it inflates the importance of people opposing Belichick higher than they deserve. Peyton Manning may be a good guy, but given the bitterness of the rivalry between the Patriots and the Indianpolis Colts (whose GM Bill Polian, a member of the NFL Rules Committee, manipulated rules discussions to get rules enforced and thus get opposing defenses off his receivers after they were legitimately beaten up in several 2003 games) it isn't particularly relevent that Belichick didn't shake Manning's hand. Eric Mangini did the unthinkable and went to the Jets, a team historically famous for incompetence, interference (it was Jets front office interference that forced Belichick to quit on them despite being named head coach in 2000), and ineptitude - why Belichick should respect that the critics never answer. The "classlessness" of the Patriots' sack dance in San Diego came after a day of bullying by a San Diego squad long on bullying and short on maturity - the Chargers got what they deserved.
Then we get repeated whines about how Belichick doesn't provide good soundbite answers or "act sincere" during press conferences, and how he doesn't provide "good" answers. Yet again, no one explains why he should; it inflates the importance of those questioning Belichick higher than they deserve.
It has also been pointed out how other coaches in the league are not defending Belichick. Here the petty jealousy that exists in the league comes out, for Belichick really is better than virtually all these other coaches and teams. If Andy Reid of the Eagles, for one, is not videotaping Patriots' sidelines and signals, then his staff is not doing their job. And the whole brouhaha about "stealing" signals ignores what bears repeating - signals aree visible to everyone in the stadium and to viewers on television; it is an opposing team's job to decifer defensive signals.
The NFL eventually handed down a fine of $500,000 to Belichick, another $250,000 to the Patriots, and the loss of at least a first-round pick should they make the playoffs - fines that tellingly are not as severe as the $1 million fine plus some forfeited draft picks handed to the Denver Broncos several seasons ago for cheating on the salary cap in their two Superbowl triumphs - an act that earned the Broncos no MSM rebuke nor even serious MSM coverage. That any fine was handed down here at all was more to save face for the Commissioner's office amid disingenuous pressure from other teams.
The Lynching Of A Coach thus reached an end, for now. Hatred of Belichick will no doubt continue because of the mixture of ignorance about the legitimacy of gathering information plus jealous vitriol.