Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Patriots, prosecutors and paranoia

A recent article in Sports Illustrated written by the three-headed monster of Greg Bishop, Michael Rosenberg, and Thayer Evans made a couple things (even more) evident.

First, these days most members of the media have taken on a prosecutorial stance. When any allegations are made against an athlete -- or team -- they must be true. Guilty as charged. We've seen the knee-jerk hang-em-high scenarios played out repeatedly in recent years. The press typically has a field day sensationalizing such stories and, sadly, a large portion of the public will buy into it. Never mind waiting for all the evidence to come in, and forget keeping an open mind until it does. Just trash their reputations, and never ever apologize later when the original allegations have been proven wrong. Lock em up now, and who cares about the truth? By the time it's sorted out, another "scandal" will have come along, real or invented, and off they'll go on another witch hunt.

Remember Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens? Neither was every convicted of anything regarding the usage of performance enhancing drugs. But like an accused child molester, even if he/she could prove they were 100 miles away when the incident happened -- or not -- just being CHARGED with it is a life-long stain that never goes away. Their lives and reputations have been basically ruined, even if they were completely innocent. It happens all the time, and while various persecutors no doubt savor such a trend, it's not right.

Enter the New England Patriots. The article written by the BRE triumvirate mentioned above was along much the same lines. They cited example after example of how the Patriots may have kinda sorta maybe "cheated" over the years. Or found loopholes in the rules that they exploited. Or at the very least made things as difficult as possible for visiting teams. But they had zero hard evidence of any blatant wrong doing by Bellichick/Brady and Co. Just a lot of allegations that were never proven but taken as a whole, paints a very damning picture of the Patriots to those easily swayed.

Consider the writers themselves. Bishop is from New York. You know, the Jets thing being continually clobbered by the Pats. Rosenberg cut his journalistic teeth in Detroit. Home of the Lions, arguably the saddest-sack franchise in the history of the NFL. Background information on Evans is sketchy, but it's a pretty safe bet he doesn't hail from the Boston area. In other words, this threesome has a whole lot of reasons to trash the Pats, the major one being jealousy.

Remember Spygate a few years ago where the Pats were filming an upcoming opponent's practices? Most people, including BRE consider that a done deal. Guilty as charged. But it was never proven.

They mentioned a game where the Patriots trashed the Packers 35-0. A Green Bay staffer was quoted as saying it was almost as if Brady knew what the Cheeser defense was going to do on every play. It couldn't possibly be that the Pats were a vastly superior team, and Brady is as good as anybody at reading defensive formations and calling audibles to change the play. He must have had a direct line into the Packer headsets -- right?

Look at what happened with the whole Deflategate thing. The media went wild over a few footballs that were "allegedly" under inflated by a mere one half PSI -- in a driving rainstorm. In a game the Pats would win by 5+ touchdowns. And BTW, Brady's stats were even better in the second half after the missing 1/2 PSI had been restored to the footballs. But he must have been guilty of something -- right? Hang-em-high and worry about the facts later.

Enter Roger Goodell, lord, master and high Commissioner of the NFL. Though his heavy-handed rulings on every single recent case of player "misconduct" had eventually blown up in his face, by thunder, he was going to zap this Brady guy and the Patriots. RG hired a company man, one Ted Wells, to do an investigation. It took two months and cost a couple million bucks. In the end, Wells' 200 page report offered no hard evidence of guilt indeed. Just more allegations, saying Brady was "more likely than not to have had at least a 'general' awareness of some sort of wrongdoing" by others. Wells had tried his best to give his masters what they wanted to hear.

Good enough for Roger. We know all about Brady's suspension, the million dollar fine, and loss of draft picks for the Patriots.

But in the end, a federal judge saw through the tyrannical charade. You can't hammer a guy because he may or may not have kinda sorta been aware of possible wrongdoing by somebody else. Once again, one of Roger's calls blew up in his face after an objective mind had thoroughly examined it.

Yes, the collective bargaining agreement, which the union foolishly signed off on, gave Goodell the power to pretty much do whatever he wants in matters of player discipline, allegations proven or not. But let's remember Goodell works for the owners, not the players or fans. His primary job is to make sure the billionaires make even more money.

Yet in that respect, Goodell and the owners should feel fortunate judge Richard Berman didn't go even further. Though most judges are loathe to undo a contract, Berman could easily have nullified certain clauses of the CBA, deeming them unfair under labor law. Though union Prez DeMaurice Smith and the players were idiots to sign such a contract in the first place giving Goodell such unchecked power, it only takes one objective guy in a black robe to upset the apple cart and throw things into even further turmoil. Any such ruling would have been devastating to not only Goodell, but the league. Thankfully, or maybe not, that didn't happen, though it certainly would have made things infinitely more interesting.

Nevertheless, Bishop, Rosenberg, and Evans got one thing right. These days it appears it's the Patriots against everybody else. The league keeps tweaking the rules in the hopes of slowing down the juggernaut Patriots. So far it hasn't worked. Take away one thing, and they'll find another. The prosecutor/jealous types will keep chalking it up to "cheating", but that's just their nature. It might just be as Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian put it.

"They do the best job, week in and week out, of coaching all the little things that make a difference in winning and losing".

Everybody else, including other teams, the media, and many fans, remain paranoid of the New England bunch. They continue to search for ghosts and goblins that aren't there.

And guess who has benefited the most (and still does) from this mass irrational phobia?

Bill Bellichick isn't exactly known for his gregarious sense of humor but, methinks somewhere, once in a while, he chuckles privately at how others are so easily distracted by those like BRE that are too busy trying to muddy the waters, but lose sight of the obvious.

Love them or hate them, the Patriots have just been flat-out good. Six trips to the Super Bowl with four victories, including the last one? They routinely cut loose Pro-Bowlers and plug in other no-names -- but somehow those guys turn out to be excellent too. And the beat goes on. That can hardly be called "cheating". That's finding the right guys and coaching them up.

All the pseudo-scandals and media witch hunts in the world can't change that. It is what it is, and has been for quite some time.

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