The self-proclaimed world-wide leader in sports is at it again: on Wednesday morning, ESPN published a story titled Son, ghostwriter of late senator say Trump intervened to stop probe of Patriots’ Spygate scandal. It is, to say the least, a lot.
The basic premise is as follows: The late Arlen Specter, himself a Sentor from Pennsylvania, was approached by a future U.S. President with an offer. Specter would get increased campaign contributions but in turn was asked to drop his fight against the NFL and the New England Patriots.
According to the report, the U.S. President in question was none other than Donald Trump, who was acting on behalf of Patriots team owner Robert Kraft. Specter’s eldest son as well as the ghostwriter of two of Specter’s memoirs, Charles Robbins, were cited as the sources of these allegations.
“My father told me that Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft,“ Shahin Spector told ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham. “But I’m equally sure the reference to money in Palm Beach was campaign contributions, not cash. The offer was Kraft assistance with campaign contributions. … My father said it was Kraft’s offer, not someone else’s.
“He was pissed. He told me about the call in the wake of the conversation and his anger about it. … My father was upset when [such overtures] would happen because he felt as if it were tantamount to a bribe solicitation, though the case law on this subject says it isn’t. … He would tell me these things when they occurred. We were very close.”
As you can see: it is indeed a lot.
Before going deeper, let’s revisit everyone’s favorite camera position controversy.
Spygate is in itself a complicated story not just because an erroneous report by the Boston Herald that stated the team illegally filmed the then-St. Louis Rams’ practice ahead of Super Bowl 36 — something that never happened and was later retracted by the paper, but persists to this day in some media circles. At the heart of it all, however, was New England’s interpretation of a memo sent out by the NFL in 2006.
The memo stated that “videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.” This phrasing, however, contradicted the NFL’s rules at the time — and the rule book can furthermore only be changed by ownership vote, one that had not happened in this particular case.
Belichick and company therefore went with their own interpretation of the rule while trying to be in accordance with what was regulated by the NFL’s bylaws: filming was allowed regardless of camera location as long as the material was not used in-game.
What happened next has been told over and over again: the New York Jets, led by former Patriots assistant coach Eric Mangini, told the league about New England’s videotaping practices after a Week 1 game in 2007. The league imposed unprecedented fines — loss of what later turned out to be a first-round draft pick, among them — and later conducted an investigation into the matter, not finding any additional wrongdoing.
Arlen Specter was not happy about these results.
It surely had nothing to do with the fact that he was a life-long Philadelphia Eagles fan, though, and that the Patriots had beaten his team in the Super Bowl just a few years before. Yeah, that couldn’t have been his motivation.
Specter was furious with the NFL because it destroyed the evidence, which he alleged was proof of some nefarious behind-the-scenes deals between the league and the Patriots.
Of course, those same tapes were also shown during a press conference in New York. The pretty unspectacular footage was running on a loop before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stepped in front of the podium to talk about the Spygate inquiry. Still, Specter was not happy and openly thought about using tax payer money to kickstart a congressional investigation into the league and the Patriots.
He later dropped his vendetta, citing that the Judiciary Committee was too busy with other matters. Bummer.
According to ESPN’s report, however, Robert Kraft and Donald Trump were teaming up to stop Specter in his tracks. At least that is how it is presented.
The reality is that Trump and Specter have been friends since the 1980s. Trump had contributed “a total of $11,300 to Specter’s campaign committees, often giving the maximum amount allowed in each cycle,” per the Van Natta/Wickersham story. Specter also asked Kraft about contributions back in 2010, but he — surprise! — did not get any from the Patriots’ owner.
So, what’s to make from all of this? As with all things Spygate it appears to be a lot of noise about nothing.
The Patriots and Trump have both denied the allegations, which essentially means you have two parties arguing against each other.
What is interesting, though, is the timing of the report. It has been almost 14 years since Spygate happened, and New England has won three more Super Bowls since. People have moved on, but ESPN has again decided to revisit the story, seemingly to create some conversation in the thick of the NFL offseason.
Controversy still sells, after all, especially when the most successful pro football team of the 21st century is involved.
At the end of the day, a quote by Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver and current NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin still best sums up the situation surrounding Spygate, the Patriots, and ESPN’s coverage of the scandal (and a subsequent one) to this day.
“They hate anybody that wins so much and does great things,” Irvin said during the Deflategate affair of 2015.
“There’s two ways we write stories: we write stories on the climb, when people are climbing up. When you’ve been up there so long, the only great stories to write that really sell are the stories about them falling. That hasn’t happened in a long time in New England. Sometimes, I think, we’re trying to manufacture things to make them fall because we can’t find teams to beat them to make them fall.”