U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter yesterday pressed the National Football League to commission an independent investigation into the New England Patriots' Spygate scandal on the scope of baseball's Mitchell inquiry into the use of steroids.
The Pennsylvania Republican indicated that if the league would not, Congress may well do so, and he cited the NFL's antitrust exemption provided by Congress as a partial reason.
"If the NFL does not investigate, if they don't, I think it's up to Congress to investigate and take corrective action,'' Mr. Specter, the state's senior senator, said at a noon news conference in Washington, D.C.
He said he would give the NFL a couple of months to investigate before possibly raising the issue with Congress.
Mr. Specter's comments came after he met for more than three hours Tuesday with former Patriots employee Matt Walsh, who was involved in some of the illegal videotaping of opposing coaches' sideline signals by the Patriots. Four Steelers-Patriots games were involved.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also met with Mr. Walsh for more than three hours Tuesday and then announced there would be no more punishment for the Patriots based on that interview and on the eight videotapes that Mr. Walsh had turned over to the league.
Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said in a statement Tuesday that the team was satisfied with Mr. Goodell's conclusions, and coach Mike Tomlin told the Post-Gazette, "It's over.'' A Steelers spokesman said they would have no further reaction to Mr. Specter's comments yesterday.
Mr. Specter, though, differed with the opinions of Mr. Rooney and Mr. Tomlin -- and others in the NFL -- saying they had a "conflict of interest."
"They share revenue, they have gigantic economic interests ... the core of their game is integrity," Mr. Specter said. "It's in the interests of every team owner and others ... to do what they're doing. They're an obvious conflict of interest."
Mr. Specter used the Steelers in many of his examples during his half-hour news conference, partly because they and many of their fans are his constituents and also because four of their games with the Patriots involved illegal taping, including two American Football Conference championship games won by New England at Heinz Field.
"There are a lot of open questions on the Steelers," he said.
Asked at the news conference why Mr. Rooney and his coach insist that Spygate is over, Mr. Specter said: "I'm elected by 12 million people and a lot of them are Steelers fans. I'm also a United States senator; beyond the 12 million Pennsylvanians [many of whom] are Steelers fans, there are a lot of Americans who are Steelers fans.
"I have a little different responsibility than they do. I have great respect for the Steelers coach and the Steelers organization. I know Dan Rooney and I knew his father, Art Rooney. I know his son, Art II. But, I have a little different perspective on it.
"Frankly, I'm incensed [by] what happened with the Steelers and I'm incensed about the notes being destroyed, I really am."
Mr. Specter cited "talking points" emanating from around the league about putting the matter behind it, of the destruction of evidence, and of information not coming out of the NFL until it has been forced to release it. However, he stopped short of calling it a cover-up.
"I don't think I need to go quite that far," Mr. Specter said, "and I'm only going as far as I have to ... . Cover-up's a very strong term. I'm not going to adopt it -- yet."
In response to Mr. Specter's comments, the NFL issued a statement yesterday that said: "We respectfully disagree with Senator Specter's characterization of the investigation conducted by our office. We are following up after yesterday's meeting with Matt Walsh."
In a floor statement the senator entered into the Congressional Record, Mr. Specter intimated that New England coach Bill Belichick lied to Mr. Goodell when he told Mr. Goodell he did not realize the extraordinary taping violated NFL rules.
"The Patriots took elaborate steps to conceal their filming of opponents' signals," Mr. Specter's statement read. "Patriots personnel instructed Walsh to use a 'cover story' if anyone questioned him about the filming."
Mr. Specter referred to the Steelers-Patriots AFC championship game on Jan. 27, 2002, in Heinz Field when "Walsh was specifically instructed not to wear anything displaying a Patriots logo. Walsh indicated he turned the Patriots sweatshirt he was wearing at the time inside-out. Walsh was also given a generic credential instead of one that identified him as team personnel."
Mr. Specter concluded that "These efforts to conceal the filming demonstrate the Patriots knew they were violating NFL rules."
He said the NFL had good reason to try to sweep everything under the table and for teams to stick together on this matter.
"Evidence of winning by cheating would have the inevitable effect of undercutting public confidence in the game and reducing, perhaps drastically, attendance and TV revenues," Mr. Specter said.
But beyond the congressional antitrust exemption granted to the NFL, he said lawmakers also have an obligation because the public trust is involved.
In another move involving Spygate, the Boston Herald yesterday carried a front-page apology for its story that reported the Patriots secretly videotaped a St. Louis Rams walkthrough practice session the day before the Super Bowl in 2002.
"We now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed,'' the Herald wrote.
The so-called Spygate began after the NFL confiscated a camera and tapes being shot by a Patriots employee on the floor of Giants Stadium last September during a New England-New York Jets game. The tapes and others the Patriots turned over to the league displayed opposing coaches calling defensive signals from the sideline. The act violated NFL rules, and Mr. Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000, fined Mr. Belichick $500,000 and docked them a 2008 first-round draft pick.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .