Two big cheating stories to report on today. Details are still developing, but the basic facts are known.
On one side of the Atlantic, we have the New England Patriots. On the other side, we have the McLaren F1 team. In both cases, we have reputations, future success, and revenues at risk.
First, the Patriots. It has been determined that the Patriots spied on the New Jersey Jets and stole / read their signals before plays were executed. It is blatant cheating and the Pats are going to have to be penalized in one or more ways. Bill Belichick might have to pay a very heavy price. He may have gone from Hooded Jedi Master status to Richard Nixon status in less than 72 hours.
Here's the thing that shocks me: I always thought Belichick cared too much about his legacy to risk tainting it like this. He's a history buff and someone who allowed [David] Halberstam to follow him around simply because he understood the intrinsic value of a great writer capturing his "brilliance" in a widely read book. The whole thing is just bizarre. I'm a big Watergate buff, and there are some eerie parallels to last Sunday's Jets game and the '72 presidential election -- not just the spying symmetry, but that neither the Patriots nor Nixon needed to take the risk. Nixon had the '72 election locked up but was so paranoid, he allowed his guys to basically defame Edmund Muskie and George McGovern and tried to break into the Democratic headquarters multiple times. Belichick knew he had a better team than the Jets, but he tried to steal their signals anyway. Let's hope this doesn't lead to a disgraced Belichick climbing on a private jet in 18 months and raising his arms defiantly in the air.
You know who should be the maddest at Belichick and the cloud of suspicion that his actions have cast on the organization? The Patriots players themselves who were a part of those three Super Bowl championships. If those successes were all legitimate, as they very likely were, then those players have every right to be furious at the notion that this damage to their legacy was entirely self-inflicted. And for what? A competitive edge that they already have in spades, in most cases, thanks to their superior players, coaches and preparation skills.
MLH contributor M:
Ok, both you guys follow football way more than I do...frankly I can't be bothered until after the Sox season winds down. The NFL has confirmed the Pats cheated with the camera thing. How bad is this? To me its simple...you cheat you lose. The Pats should be given the loss and the Jets the win. Any other penalties on top are probably ok too. I realize that the Pats players are innocent here and that the guilty is so far just a cameraman and probably the coaches.
But how tainted are they now? Did they cheat to win superbowls? Will that question be raised?
Or is all of this just an idiot with a camera and totally overblown?
One: They all cheat. Players, coaches, owners. With the money dolling out, all teams will employ whatever methods it takes to win games. Football, baseball, whatever. Steriods, HGH, video coaching in the dug to analyse swings (a la Big Papi)....I mean why does a third base coach have 27 different hand cues to convey the play? Why should football feel so violated that someone might try and figure out the blitz package? Why WOULDN'T you try to figure out what the other team is doing? These sports dicks use war terms so much why would trying to figure out what the "enemy" is doing in order to properly counter not be completely justified? Christ an average lineman weighed 265 pound about 15 years ago....now they are as fast as the runnings backs of that time and are twice as big! Something stinks here.
Two: This is EXACTLY like stealing signs. To me I am sure it helps to know what pitch is coming but how much it helps is another thing.
To me it is the culture we live in. Why would we believe sports to be any different from real life. Winning is all that matters and losers go home.
Another thing that struck me, if the Pats have been up to no good for a long time (previous Super Bowls etc) why didn't Mangini know that? My guess is they all do it. It just that the Jets were too stupid to change up the signals.
I guess I just feel that sports is just like everything else, integrity, purity, and fairness be damned, just win the damn game.
There's no question our value system particularly in sports culture is fucked up to high heaven. But to me that's no excuse. Ususally when these controversies arise it has something to do with "unwritten rules"...ie stealing signs, throwing at a hitter, giving payback for a hit batsman by throwing at somebody else (but not at their head). Its tough to keep up or be objective since these rules are "unwritten". But this one is written and its pretty clear they cheated. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this camera business is fairly common place and Mangina just had the inside scoop because of his time with the Pats. I also think that yes the issue of performance enhancing drugs is very out of control. I find the Mitchell MLB investigation amusing. To me who cares who did steroids...for the most part they are not doing them anymore....they're doing HGH and other designer drugs now....and one look in the eyes of Giambi will tell you he's drugged to the gills. MLB is way behind the curve on that one...and the NFL isn't doing much better. Its like conducting an investigation into who had a nightcap before bed during Prohibition...its irrelevant now.
So yes to some extent "they all cheat" and unfortunately in our society where winning is everything people will continue to cheat. But when an individual or team is caught as blatantly as the Pats seem to have been the governing body (in this case the NFL) has to set an example. It can't just be an old boys club where everybody knows this goes on and crime is just the getting caught...it ought to be having committed the crime in the first place.
The notion of taking away draft picks seems harsh...just take the W away.
The Pats are good enough to overcome the loss....but not so good they'll try it again. Lesson learned and we move on.
On Thursday evening, the NFL handed down its punishment:
- Patriots coach Bill Belichick will be personally fined $500,000
- The Patriots organization will be fined $250,000
- The Patriots will lose their 2008 first-round draft pick if they make the playoffs this season. If they somehow miss the playoffs, then they will lose their second and thrid round draft picks. Not a light penalty.
I was almost certain that the Patriots would have to forefit last Sunday's game against the Jets. I still think they should. It is shameful that they were caught cheating against the Jets.
I have been saying for years that the Jets are a terrible team - popular and overrated only because of their rabid fans and the New York media. Like the Knicks, they may never win another title.
I'm getting off-track again. OK, I'll lay off the Jets for today. After all, they were the victim here.
Ron Dennis is not pleased at all.
And now the more complicated story of McLaren, the F1 team that was having a monster comeback year in 2007. Following an awful season in 2006 in which the team lost Juan Pablo Montoya to NASCAR and Kimi Raikkonen to Ferarri, and points were hard to come by, 2007 was becoming the greatest rebound year the team could hope for. The team was successful from the first race March 18th in Australia with its two new drivers, defending F1 champion Fernando Alonso and rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton. McLaren, the favorite team among UK F1 fans, and still designated as a British car constructor, were dominating sports headlines and dominating race results from the beginning of the season. They were well on their way to winning the Constructor's Championship with Ferrari a distant second. And surely one of their drivers would win the Driver's Championship. In fact the biggest controvery in the team was whether Fernando could handle the possibuility of Lewis Hamilton scoring more points than him.
But as spring became summer, we learned that the team's chief race car designer, Mike Coughlan, was caught with a CD-ROM containing 780 pages of Ferrari technical documents - all intellectual property and trade secrets of Ferrari. It turns out that Coughlan obtained the CD-ROM in April from Ferrari Race Technical Director Nigel Stepney, a disgruntled senior team member in the final year of his contract.
News of the data transfer broke when Coughlan's wife alledgedly took a hard copy of the documents to a shop near Surrey to have them photocopied. The employee at the shop, realizing that they were genuine Ferrari documents, made a copy for himself and contacted Ferrari in Modena directly.
[It has been said many many times - stupid mistakes get people caught.]
In June, both Stepney and Coughlan approached Honda inquiring about job opportunities. Nothing substantive came out of those meetings. But it suggests the possibility that the leak of trade secrets was meant to eventually take Ferrari knowledge to Honda.
On July 3rd, Ferrari fired Stepney, and had criminal charges filed against the Coughlans after a warranted search of Coughlan's house produced the documents and CD-ROM. The Coughlans soon made a deal with Ferrari to tell them everything they knew. By late July, F1's governing body, the FIA, concluded an investigation which ruled that while the McLaren team had possession of the Ferrari documents, there was no evidence that McLaren used any of Ferrari's secrets in its 2007 car design.
Then came the FIA's ominous words - the investigation could be re-opened at any time, and McLaren could be penalized if new evidence was brought to the FIA regarding this espionage scandal.
In August, new evidence emerged suggesting that team McLaren used or looked at the Ferrari data, and today, an expensive punishment was handed-down to them. Their Constructor Championship points have been voided for the entire 2007 season. Ferrari are the new Constructor Champion points leaders. Furthermore, no McLaren team member, orher then their two drivers, may appear on the podium for the remainder of the season. But the drivers, Hamilton and Alonso, keep their championship points, and will be able to battle each other for the championship in the four remaining races this season. Plus McLaren will pay a $100 Million fine, which will include estimated lost revenue due to failing to win the Constructor's Championship.
Confusing? Yes. Is Ron Dennis pissed? Yes. But he has to take responsibility for the actions of his chief designer.