Today on Blogcritics
Home » Mike Greenberg And Arlen Specter: Two Conspiracy Peas In A Pod

Mike Greenberg And Arlen Specter: Two Conspiracy Peas In A Pod

I should know better than to allow myself to be sucked into sports talk radio. The hosts usually have, at most, a casual fan’s knowledge of most sports and, besides, most seem to get their information and opinions from the morning newspapers. That’s certainly true here in Cleveland and, I suspect, most other towns.

But the national sports talk shows are supposed to be different. In theory, the hosts have achieved some level of accomplishment and credibility that puts them closer to if not quite equal with the print reporters that cover sports on a daily basis than the average bozo fielding still another call from the suburbs about whether or not he thinks the Indians will be able to re-sign C.C. Sabathia.

Listening to ESPN’s Mike Greenberg on Mike & Mike In The Morning this past Monday rant again and some more about the New England Patriots allegedly spying on the opposition has officially started me thinking otherwise. According to Greenberg, who sounded just a tad unhinged, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should open up for full public view the league’s continuing investigation into the Patriots and what former Patriots video camera holder and part time golf pro Matt Walsh might or might not know.

Greenberg’s view essentially is: he’s a season ticket holder for the New York Jets, this issue goes to the integrity of the game, and, consequently, he and the rest of the ticket-buying public are entitled to transparency as to the inner workings of the league.

Let’s dispense with the easy stuff first. The NFL, the last time I looked, was still a private enterprise. It certainly isn’t a government agency nor is it even a publicly-held company. The fact that it enjoys an antitrust exemption (under the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, so that its teams can pool their rights and negotiate collectively with the various networks that show their games) provides no hook, Specter’s posturing notwithstanding. The league simply has no obligation whatsoever under that law or any of the various other laws that govern these things to publicly disclose anything, whether it’s Goodell’s salary or who the league hires to clean the rest rooms at its headquarters in New York. That doesn’t mean it can’t publicly disclose such matters and it often does. But undertaking that task on some items doesn’t require it to do so on others.

As for Greenberg’s bizarre sense of entitlement by virtue of his lousy investment in Jets season tickets every year, it’s a great populist justification, but it opens up a slippery slope that I’m not sure even he wants to traverse. Whether he likes it or not, his status, such as it is, doesn’t give him an entrée into the executive offices of the Jets, let alone the league, any more than buying a Prius gives him an entrée into the CEO’s office at Toyota. More to the point, the fact that my monthly cable bill includes a hefty charge for the various ESPN channels doesn’t entitle me to understand, let alone weigh in on, how the various ESPN executives decided to discipline their employee Dana Jacobsen after she acted like a high school sophomore taking her first swig of vodka at the Mike & Mike celebrity roast this past January.

The more difficult issue revolves around the underlying “Spygate” allegations. (And, by the way, when exactly does the statute of limitations expire for adding the word “gate” to whatever noun is used to represent an on-going investigation by anyone into anything?) Apparently, there is a fair number of people, including disgruntled Philadelphia Eagles fan and current Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who tend to think that using video equipment to steal another team’s signals threatens the integrity of the game. Baloney.

All using video equipment does is help one team better document the other team’s signals. If stealing signals was the issue, then the NFL would outlaw that practice, which they don’t. All the NFL’s arcane rule does is prevent the kind of activity that the Patriots engaged in: using a videographer to tape a sideline coach’s signals and note the time so that it can later be synced with the play-by-play log. Nothing prevents a team from having an assistant or an intern train a set of binoculars or a high-powered telescope on an opposing coach if it wants to and write down the various gestures and the time.

This isn’t to excuse the Patriots’ actions. They and the rest of the teams were warned by the league not to tape the sidelines of the opposing team and they did it anyway. They paid a fairly hefty price for their transgressions. But Specter, with absolutely nothing better to do apparently, has been attacking this matter with the kind of fervor one would hope a more conscientious member of Senate would do with the economy, or gas prices, or the war in Iraq, or poverty, or home foreclosures, or global warming, to tick off just a few of the more pressing problems that average constituents are facing.

Specter initially criticized Goodell for supposedly covering up the results of his investigation into the Patriots and destroying the tapes that were gathered, linking it to the CIA’s destruction of the tapes of its rather aggressive interrogation techniques. Apparently someone got to Specter rather quickly on that one and he backed down on the dramatic and wrongheaded comparison. But he otherwise hasn’t backed down on the underlying issue, much to his embarrassment.

What Specter still hasn’t explained is why he continues to even care about this issue, except in the way a sore loser whose hometown team lost to the Patriots in the 2005 Super Bowl might. Try as he and others have, this issue isn’t even comparable to the widespread use of illegal steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in baseball or other sports. That clearly is both a legal issue and an integrity issue, not to mention a public health issue. But videotaping another team’s assistant coaches, or even surreptitiously filming the opposing team’s walk through the day before a game, implicates nothing more than a perceived or potential advantage that can never be proven.

You can forcefully argue the point that knowing what defense an opposing team might be running might be helpful to the offense, or vice versa, but that’s always been more theory than reality. By the time an opposing coach’s signals are deciphered and relayed to his team, there is precious little time to change the play anyway. In other words, it’s about as helpful as batter finding out what pitch is coming just before it’s released.

Moreover, the NFL is as open of a book as any sport, maybe more so. Every game is televised, has been for years, and each team has so much film on every other team that by the time the game arrives, little if anything could possibly be a surprise. You could put a member of the Eagles defense into the Patriots offensive huddle and Randy Moss is still going to catch the pass from Tom Brady if he’s open. It comes down, as always, to execution.

I have no doubts that little pockets of interest around the country still exist about this issue, just as they do about whether or not Neil Armstrong’s moon walk was actually filmed on a Hollywood soundstage. But those same pockets, fueled by blowhards like Greenberg and Specter, still haven’t offered a cogent reason for their on-going obsession, likely because there is none. Maybe that’s why Goodell keeps stiff-arming Specter, which is a more polite response than the one he’d probably rather give and should, an extended middle finger.

About Gary D. Benz

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    It’s official: Specter is abusing his red challenge subpoena privileges.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Specter came up with the single-bullet theory, so he isn’t quick to give in to conspiracies.

    “It certainly isn’t a government agency nor is it even a publicly-held company.”

    Considering how much tax money is used to fund new stadiums that could be better used on a city’s infrastructure, I don’t see why the government shouldn’t look into it. It took Congress’ involvement to get MLB to begin to clean itself up. btw, Green Bay is publicly held, so are the rules going to be different if they come under suspicion?

    “They paid a fairly hefty price for their transgressions.”

    Disagree. The dollar amount is a mere blip in Kraft’s ledger, and if they were being penalized a draft pick, it should be the higher one.

    “Maybe that’s why Goodell keeps stiff-arming Specter”

    How often do the innocent stiff-arm authority figures? People who act like they have something to hide usually do.

    Just because you are willing to keep your head in the sand based on Goodell’s word, who obviously has a stake in the outcome, doesn’t mean others don’t have a valid concern about the integrity of sports and its erosion.

  • Gary

    The Packers are a publicly-held non-profit organization, with shareholders (over 4 million) but the league is not a public entity, which is my point. Congress getting involved in illegal steroids, in context, creates all sorts of issues, including public health issues. And whether or not you or me thinks the Patriots paid a high enough price, the point is that they were docked a first round pick and Belichick personally was fined $500,000, a fair amount of money. My point, ultimately, is not that anyone needs to take Goodell’s word on this, it’s just that it’s not the business of a U.S. Senator to grind a personal ax with the league and use his office to do so. It’s an abuse of power and anyone should have the right to stand up to it.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “Considering how much tax money is used to fund new stadiums that could be better used on a city’s infrastructure, I don’t see why the government shouldn’t look into it.”

    Shouldn’t it be the local government’s jurisdiction then, since it’s local tax dollars (I think) that go toward these stadiums?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “The Packers are a publicly-held non-profit organization, with shareholders (over 4 million) but the league is not a public entity, which is my point.”

    Yes, but since you used “publicly held” as the standard, it prompted my question.

    “Belichick personally was fined $500,000″

    Have you seen a checkstub because I would need some proof before I believe that one?

    “Shouldn’t it be the local government’s jurisdiction then”

    They certainly should have a say in the matter, and while I am not a lawyer, I would think that since the antitrust exemption was granted at the federal level, they should have some oversight into how the NFL conducts its business. The NFL could always give back the exemption if they don’t like how they are being treated.

    I have no idea if the Patriots cheated or how serious an offense it was, but I see no reason why Goddell’s word should be trusted if he refuses to allow it to be verified since he has a stake in the outcome. If there’s nothing to hide, then show people and stop allowing it to drag on.

  • lenny d

    you are critical of a sports talk host’s knowledge then call matt walsh -mike walsh?

  • Travis Purdy

    This guy is wrong. First, his self promoting comments on sports talk radio hosts having nothing more than the casual fans knowledge are ridiculous. That is the point! Fans usually don’t have intimate knowledge of the sports they watch and sports talk shows break down information so the fan can understand it.

    Second his comments on Jets season tickets being a bad investment make me laugh. Last I checked, the Browns play in Cleveland and except for last year, they have been awful for some time.

    Finally, the argument that the NFL is not a public company is the argument of a man with short sight. To that I ask:

    1. How many people watched the Superbowl last year?
    2. How many public businesses would be affected should the integrity of the game crumble the same level as the word of Roger Clemens?

  • Gary Benz

    Travis: I’d agree in theory that sports talk show hosts should be able to break down a particular sport based on their intimate knowledge, but most can’t, at least at the local level. The national hosts tend to be better, but not always. Second, not to get into a whole this team is better than that team sort of thing, the Jets winning percentage since 1960 (when they began) is .454. The Browns winning percentage since 1946 is .564. In fact, by quick glance, only three franchises (the Bears, the Cowboys and the Dolphins) have higher winning percentages. The only point is that the Jets would have to go undefeated for the next 4 1/2 seasons just to get to .500 as a franchise. That may not seem like a lousy investment to you, but I suspect others might see it otherwise. Finally, whether or not the public is interested in what the NFL does is not the same as the NFL being a public company.

  • Travis Purdy

    While I appreciate your ability to put whatever spin you would like on the Brown’s v. Jet’s investment. Let us be slightly more realistic with the time frame we use. In the last 10 seasons the Jets have had 4 winning seasons and the Browns 2. Furthermore, the Patriot’s have a win/loss percentage of .512, which is also less than the Brown’s. Did those season ticket holders make a bad investment? Finally, who has more Lombardi trophies, the Jets or the Browns? Hell even Tampa with thier .393 win/loss percentage have a championship.

  • Gary Benz

    Travis: the worth of any investment is in the eye of the beholder. I didn’t suggest in the original piece that the Browns were a better investment anyway. Whether or not you or me or anyone thinks the Jets season tickets are a good investment really isn’t the point anyway. Simply making that investment doesn’t give an individual like Greenberg any special privileges into the NFL front offices, which was his point.

  • skip b

    exactly lenny. gary, edit your post. MATT walsh is his name. maybe bloggers dont have to be as smart as radio guys. they can say anything they want without getting facts correct because no one reads them. sadly i wish i had the last 3 minutes of my life back

  • Gary Benz

    Lenny/Skip: It was an editing error for which I take full responsibility. I’ll work on getting it corrected. We’re all well aware his name is Matt Walsh, but you two are correct for pointing out the error.

  • frank s

    Gary – you nailed it!! Nice job.

    Just follow the money…

    Spector is the best Senator that Comcast money can buy and they, along with ESPN, are all about the Comcast versus NFL Network war.

    Walsh is just a pawn in their bigger game hungting.

  • STI

    “Disagree. The dollar amount is a mere blip in Kraft’s ledger, and if they were being penalized a draft pick, it should be the higher one.”

    The fines were far larger, and the draft pick higher, than the penalties given the Broncos for their violation of the salary cap, which was just as damaging if not more so.

    As for why the Pats didn’t lose the #7 pick–which I’m sure a lot of people would _love_ to see–the way I understand it, NFL rules forbid them from taking it away, since the Patriots acquired it by trading away their own first in 2007; it’d be like going back in time, in essence. [The NFL also prohibits the Commissioner--or anyone else, for that matter--from declaring a forfeit unless a team refuses/is unable to take the field.]

  • nicolas

    i’m with you gary. everyone is missing the point here, that people like Sen. Specter have far more significant work they should be doing than digging into the taping issue beyond what the league has already done.

    You’re all edited up, too.