I'm sick of this. The days are getting longer and the beginnings of baseball are blooming down in Ft. Myers, Fla., and I should be reveling in the upcoming ring ceremony at Fenway Park and the endless source of delight that is Jonathan Papelbon. On top of it, I am well and truly sick of bickering and name-calling and scandal! scandal! scandal! over the Patriots.
And yet, the continuing drama over the Pats is really all I can think about when it comes to sports. I spend more time ruminating on Spygate and the latest flame war over the Patriots than I do contemplating whether Clay Buchholz will make the starting rotation or what the deal is with Curt Schilling's shoulder. I'm poring over comments threads on Boston sports websites, tossing back and forth the various existential questions, thrown gauntlets and moments of cognitive dissonance that accompany the latest fresh bad news about Bill Belichick's reputation, instead of hunting for the latest bleeped-out sound-bite from Josh Beckett.
Since I'm thinking about it anyway, I'll throw out my point of view on things, the admittedly uneasy resolutions I've come to for now on the whole mess. I can't speak for other Patriots fans, nor do I intend to. I can't answer for other Patriots fans who may have been obnoxious in the past, and the issue of whether or not we deserve this as a fan base is a pointless argument I'd rather not continue to have. Right now there's enough complexity just sorting out the facts.
So here's how I see things.
1. Enough with Spygate. No one has proven that the Patriots used the "Spygate" tapes during a game. The theory that they could have relayed the stolen signals in time to use them on an upcoming play has been publicly called unrealistic by former NFL head coaches. Opposing organizations including the Steelers have publicly stated they don't feel it had any effect on the games they played.
The Patriots have apologized profusely, been fined heavily, lost draft picks, and dressed down publicly as very, very bad men over this since it happened last year. I have never defended their rule infraction or questioned their punishment over it. I don't know what more I can personally offer on the Spygate subject at this point.
2. The Matt Walsh Affair is a separate matter.
Matt Walsh is a former employee fired by the Patriots for taping conversations between himself and Scott Pioli without Pioli's knowledge or permission. He denies this while basing a conveniently-timed campaign against Belichick on the assertion that he took unauthorized video of a Rams walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI.
Even when he anonymously told his story to John Thomase of the Herald on the eve of Super Bowl XLII, he didn't say whether he had been directed to videotape the walkthrough, whether he had ever turned over the tape to the team, or whether Belichick viewed the tape prior to the game.
Since coming forward, Walsh has spent most of his time dancing around with the league about legal immunity. According to another story by Thomase in the Herald:
The two sides traded proposals last week but have yet to reach a resolution. The league’s proposal offered Walsh protection on two conditions. According to commissioner Roger Goodell: “(He) has to tell the truth and he has to return anything he took improperly.”
Levy doesn’t believe the agreement offers enough protection, particularly if Walsh is accused of being untruthful.
“Under our proposal, Mr. Walsh is only protected if he is in good faith truthful,” Levy said. “And he will be.”
The NFL wants the same thing, and in a statement from one of its attorneys, questioned Levy’s contention.
Eric Holder, a partner in Covington and Burling, the NFL’s outside law firm, said: “No responsible investigator would offer blanket immunity to a potential witness without a commitment that the witness will be truthful. Any witness who refuses to make that commitment doesn’t deserve immunity.”
League spokesman Greg Aiello added in a statement that “no one wants to talk to Matt Walsh more than we do.
“But his demand to be released from all responsibility even if his comments are not truthful is unprecedented and unreasonable,” the statement continued. “The NFL and the Patriots have assured Mr. Walsh’s lawyer that there will be no adverse consequences for his client if Mr. Walsh truthfully shares what he knows. Why does he need any more protection than that?”
Bottom line: if the Patriots did what Matt Walsh claims they did, it has yet to be proven. And there isn't even so much as official testimony to speak of yet, let alone evidence turned over--Walsh is too preoccupied with making sure he's legally protected if he lies first.
Still, the gavel is already being brought down insistently in the Court of Public Opinion.
Last week, Willie Gary, who played seven games for the Rams that season, filed suit in New Orleans accusing the Patriots of fraud, unfair trade practices and engaging in a "pattern of racketeering." Three fans joined in the suit.
On Tuesday, Hugh Campbell, the Cincinnati lawyer who filed Gary's suit, said he wanted to add at least two new classes to the action: all employees and players of all NFL teams who were illegally videotaped by the Pats, plus all fans who bought tickets to any game that the Pats illegally taped. He also said he wanted to join with Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., who also is looking into the allegations.
Goodell and Specter met last week in Washington.
Specter told The Associated Press on Wednesday that if Walsh is under subpoena in a suit, it might solve the problem of protection.
"I think now that the lawsuits have been started, that I got the ball rolling, and the plaintiffs' lawyers are picking it up," Specter said.
Is more and more mud being slung at the Patriots these days? Absolutely. Are more and more people making more and more accusations? Absolutely. But accusations don't amount to guilt. Right now, unless something new develops, it's one person's word against another's, and a lot of sound and fury.
I understand that this is where, as a Patriots fan, I'm probably parting ways with other fans once and for all. If the day comes where it's proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Patriots are guilty of this latest charge, I'll have to deal with it. I'll admit that at this moment, I don't quite know how. But I still don't feel like it's that day just yet.