In my mind, everyone in the sports world who loves the game of football would like nothing more than for Bill Belichick to stand behind a microphone and take responsibility for the spy camera fiasco that has grabbed headlines since the first Sunday of the 2007 season. To this point, and dare I say, moving on, such actions do not look any more likely. If I was a Pats fan, however, I'd want this even more than another Super Bowl ring.
This refusal of accountability is just one of those few things Belichick does that keeps me from joining the throngs of other NFL fans kissing the cut-off hem of his Unabomber sweatshirt and anointing him the coaching genius he may likely be. Penitence and humility really don't seem to be Belichick's forte. Just look at how he blew off Jets Head Coach, and former Patriots assistant, Eric Mangini after their first meeting — a Patriots' loss — last season. Belichick acts as though he is so busy developing unbeatable strategies (or at least making sure the sideline camcorder batteries are charged) that he doesn't have time for all the little annoying things in the game … like tact.
It was easy to partition my displeasure at Belichick's posturing before this scandal. The spy cameras were his idea and his trespass. Now that everyone in the franchise has rallied to defend him after he blatantly violated the integrity of the sport, things are getting a tad convoluted and it's the franchise, not Belichick, that will bear his burden.
It's not hard to hate on a franchise that wins Super Bowls like they come in a Crackerjack box, or whose starting quarterback has seemingly dated half of the Victoria's Secret Catalog. That sort of success could make the Dalai Lama jealous. However, when Belichick gets caught red handed breaking league rules and acts like it's a non-issue, he makes it down right easy.
What bothers me most is the way that the franchise and Belichick have proceeded after this story broke. At first, Belichick told the media he could not comment until after Goodell's punishment came down, but that he would have more answers after that time. When Goodell did announce the penalty, the only thing Belichick delivered more of was the phrase “moving on.” Nine times during last Friday's press conference Belichick answered questions by using some variation of that same stonewalling phrase — “I'm moving on.”
Belichick doesn't seem to understand — or doesn't seem to care — that this is a scandal. If history has taught us anything, it is that stonewalling does not work in a scandal.
Do you think, “It's time to move on,” would have worked for Richard Nixon?
“Yeah, 1970s media types, we understand we had insider knowledge of our opposition and that knowledge may or may not have led to important victories. But look, it's over. We're looking forward to the mid-term elections now. It's time to move on.”
In my opinion this continued defiance and resistance to accepting responsibility for the spy ring is only going to make things worse for the Patriots as a franchise.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was interviewed during halftime of Sunday's game against the Chargers, where he said the following: “I must tell you, it was really disappointing, especially after such a great game … What made it particularly disheartening, in our group of companies we hold people to very high standards, and this isn't what we're about.”
After the second half ended, Kraft stood in the Pats' locker room and handed Belichick the game ball for his efforts in a 38-14 home win. Guess it's hard to stay “disappointed” and “disheartened” in a guy that won you three rings.
On the sidelines at the end of the game, Belichick's players rallied around him in congratulations as though he'd just been vindicated of a murder charge. The Washington Post's Mark Maske reported some of their post-game comments on his NFL Insider Blog. Among them, was this statement by Tom Brady: “If we were going to listen to everything people said and respond, that's just too long a fight … You just can't go out and respond to everything people say. There aren't enough hours in the day.”
I don't blame Brady or anyone on the Patriots for sticking up for their coach. That's what good team members are supposed to do. However, on this count, he's wrong. How long would it really take for Belichick to simply say: “I was wrong for what I did, and I am sorry.”? Without an admission and apology, this entire organization will now carry a nationwide stigma of arrogance that already hounds the coach.
What's disappointing and disheartening to me is that this scandal is tainting a franchise that is (was?) extremely admirable. Brady's ascent from sixth-round pick to superstar is a great story and by all accounts, he, Teddy Bruschi and the vast majority of their teammates are good guys and good role models. In winning their Super Bowls, the Patriots have shown how teamwork can outweigh superstars. It was a model franchise. However, as New York Times' columnist Dave Anderson writes, “It now appears to be a model fraud, a model cheat.”
After Sunday's game, Bruschi brushed off the scandal by saying: “You better look at us and see a bunch of winners.” Right now, the lack of remorse by Belichick and the rest of the franchise is making that awfully hard.