When the 2007 NFL season comes to a close, Patriots CEO and President Robert Kraft should file a legal suit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for defamation of character.
Mr. Goodell fined New England head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization for using a video camera to steal signals in a September 9th game against the New York Jets. He also stripped the team of a first-round selection in the 2008 Draft.
Punishing Belichick and the team was justified. The size of the fine and the nature of the draft day penalty remain subjects for discussion—but they have nothing to do with the defamation damages Kraft should seek from Goodell.
Instead, Goodell wronged the Patriots by failing to clarify that the team did not cheat—and could not have cheated—during the game in which the tape was confiscated.
That failure caused fans and media all across the country to brand the Patriots as cheaters. Web sites have been established. T-shirts have been made (in violation of league rules, by the way).
And Goodell had done nothing to put a stop to it.
Even worse, the Commissioner added more fuel to the fire by ordering the Patriots—and no other team—to turn over all tapes and other pertinent notes from the past seven seasons.
Comments from current and former coaches and players have made it clear that signal-stealing is a common practice among most, if not all, NFL teams. They've said the NFL knew it was happening and did nothing to stop it, thereby giving the impression that it was condoned.
In singling out the Patriots, then, Goodell has defamed the team's character by leaving the impression that their recent success—including three Super Bowl victories—has been a product of unique and isolated cheating.
From where I stand, it appears to me that Goodell has a personal vendetta against the New England Patriots.
Were the Patriots guilty of violating a rule on September 9th at the Meadowlands?
Yes they were—and they were duly punished for it.
In announcing that punishment, though, Goodell had an obligation to say more: to say that the Patriots didn't cheat in the game, and that the NFL has no evidence that cheating ever occurred in the past.
Goodell’s failure to do so amounted to defamation, and he should be held liable for it.
With that, I officially end the trilogy. We'll wait and see what the end of the season brings.
For now, there are games to play.