Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nixon Was Taken Down By The Press; Is Goodell Choosing The Same Path?

"As far as I'm concerned, I just want you to know that I like the job I have, but if I had my life to live over again, I would have like to have ended up a sports writer"  Richard Nixon
The 37th President of the United States delivered that little ditty shortly after being elected to the office, before anyone knew that he had purposely sabotaged the Paris Peace accords for his own political gain and years before he resigned from office, a broken man.  How poignant and poetic justice can be...

When the Watergate scandal broke headlines in the early 1970's, it did so mainly due to the work of two journalists, Washington Post columnists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who, through their anonymous source, known only as "Deep Throat", was able to publicize that the knowledge of the break in at the Democratic National Headquarters and the subsequent cover up reached into the upper echelon of the White House, the FBI and the CIA.
Goodell playing high school ball just a Nixon was embroiled in Watergate

The work of these two caused a simple breaking-and-entering bag job into a scandal that changed the way Americans regarded these entities.  No longer was the Federal Bureau of Investigation the "Untouchables" as their reputation had been previously, nor was the Central Intelligence Agency any longer the brave souls who risked life and limb to keep our radar screen clear of foreign threats...

...and, most of all, no longer was the Presidency of the United States viewed as an office for the valiant and powerful image that embodied truth, justice and the American way. Watergate took the innocence of the general public that the Vietnam war had not, and left the country the laughing stock of the civilized world.

Richard Nixon became so paranoid of the media that he ordered the FBI to wiretap the telephones of certain journalists, and even had the IRS audit an editor of Newsday after the publication ran a story exposing Bebe Rebozo, a Florida banker and good friend of the President, as Nixon's "Bag man", covertly receiving "donations" for Nixon's re-election effort.

Nixon's paranoia got so disabling that he ordered the assassination of long-time nemesis Jack Anderson, a freelance journalist who escaped with his life when the two assassins were arrested as part of the Watergate break ins.

Richard Nixon resigned in shame a short time later but escaped going to jail when his hand-picked successor, Gerald Ford, issued him a full pardon, while most of his cronies went to a few of the nicer federal prisons...

And damn these memories.  The 1970's were a rotten time to be in charge of anything, because of rampant paranoia and the public's distrust of anything to do with the government - and not even a full clearing of the offices by the Jimmy Carter administration did anything to renew the constituency's trust in public servants, and it wasn't until Ronald Reagan took office and re-focused the country's collective attention to the red menace of the Soviet Union that public trust began to form again.

All of that over a simple breaking-and-entering that, on the surface, appeared to be the work of rogue campaign staffers, but actually had so many layers to it that it toppled an entire government.  Nixon lived to be an old man, never confessing his role in the cover up, surrounded by a brace of secret service agents and betting heavily on professional football.

Nixon was a huge football fan, even stocking the oval office with Sunday buffets for his many friends who would watch football with him, a direct line to the Las Vegas sports book within reach at all times - he was crooked, and so, apparently, is current National Football League dictator Roger Goodell, whose integrity has taken as many hits as Nixon's had in just as short a span as the former president, and for reasons just as innocuous.

What kind of advice would Nixon have for Goodell over the corner he's painted himself into over the alleged deflation of footballs by New England Patriots' staffers - a violation of the rules that carry a $25,000 fine, yet turned into one of the ugliest black eyes in the history of professional sports?

The so-called "Deflategate" saga has turned professional football on its ear, and is the closest that the Watergate-inspired "gate" suffix has come to symbolizing the fraud and corruption inherent to power the Watergate represented, only this time it is a league commissioner in the cross hairs of the media instead of the leader of the free world, but the debate, back-biting and hatred all feels very retro.

Of course, "Deflategate" refers to the email by the Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson sent to the NFL offices, accusing the Patriots of using footballs deflated below the minimum allowable air pressure of 12.5 Psi, stemming from a game played between the teams in Indianapolis in November of last year.

During the Patriots' 42-20 victory, Colts' safety Mike Adams intercepted two Tom Brady passes, one of which he reportedly gave to the Colts' equipment manager, saying that the ball felt soft.  From Grigson's email, which was dated a few days before last January's AFC Championship Game between the same two squads, he warned the league of the equipment manager's concern.

This much is not in dispute.  However, every single movement in this saga after the email was received by League Senior Vice President of Football Operations David Gardi reeks of cover up on a scale not seen since Watergate - but a cover up for what?  The only thing that made sense in the waning hours after the story broke was that the Patriots were victims of a sting operation that somehow caught them in a web of deceit.

When Gardi received the email from Grigson, he then forwarded the email Director of Football Operations Mike Kensil, who then forwarded the email to Director of Game Day Operations James Daniels, who fired the email off to a litany of league executives, including senior members of the league's officiating department, Alberto Riveron and Dean Blandino.

What happened from that point is subject to much conjecture and lost in a pile of he said-she said road apples, with Blandino stating that he had approached championship game referee Walt Anderson to make sure that "Proper protocols concerning the footballs was followed" - proper protocol defined as inspecting each game ball selected by the quarterbacks of both teams, which includes measuring the air pressure in each...

...but in a press conference during the week before the Super Bowl, Blandino denied knowing anything about the Colts' accusatory email, a direct response to being questioned as to whether the ensuing investigation of the Patriots was a planned activity - a "sting operation" - and the first of many contradictory statements made by league executives in regard to the chronology of events.

For the uninitiated, a Sting Operation is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person committing a crime - but Blandino was unwittingly truthful about one thing.  This wasn't a sting operation, this was a flat-out set up, with Brady labeled as the fall guy.

The league wasn't trying to catch the Patriots in the act of deflating footballs, they were acting out a choreographed play in which the script called for the Patriots to finally be taken down by the league, and the commissioner to be carried off the playing field awash in the adoration of the football world outside of New England.

Ray Rice?  Adrian Peterson?  Yeah, sorry about that, we got a little ahead of ourselves there, but to make it up to you, here are the Patriots on a silver platter, the league's golden boy suspended for four games - and in the ensuing scuffle to gain legal leverage, we bet you forgive and forget the Rice thing and the Peterson thing.

Leaks out of the NFL office got public perception simmering against the Patriots - which they collectively knew wouldn't be that hard to do, as New England is one of the more disliked franchises in the league - and once someone in the NFL offices started leaking information to Indianapolis Star beat writer Bob Kravitz and his subsequent article surfaced the morning after the Patriots defeated the Colts in the AFC title game, the witch hunt was on ...

...and that's when the NFL decided to turn up the heat just a little more by leaking to ESPN's Chris Mortenson that 11 of the 12 Patriots' game footballs tested came in a two pounds per square inch under league specifications when the officials measured the balls at halftime, and the public had already found the Patriots guilty of cheating.

Never mind that on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday,'s Ian Rappaport debunked Mortenson's report - and that Kravitz is a known Colts' homer - the blood was in the water.  Now it was just a matter of generating some documentation with a few numbers and some fancy words - and that cost the league five million dollars, but as damning as the evidence was, it was worth every penny.

That, of course, was the Wells Report, a 264-page document that took four months to produce - a document that so fit the pattern of leaked "evidence" against the Patriots that when it was finally published, Wells and his investigative team became the the modern day version of the Untouchables, bringing down the evil Patriots with a flair not seen since the Watergate hearings

But a funny thing happened to the league while they were busy patting themselves on the back, something that they least expected: Journalists collectively started thinking for themselves.

Wary of - and appalled by - the way the NFL shamelessly used Kravitz and Mortenson to get their propaganda out to the public, writers began to slowly dissect the Wells Report and piece together their own theories and, lo and behold, the notion that the Patriots were set up by the league became a universal theme.

Much like Woodward and Bernstein, local journalists like Michael Hurley, Tom Curran and Jerry Thornton came out of the weeds armed with marked up, notated copies of the Wells Report and a dose of common sense, slowly whacking away at both the report and Blandino...

...and once the American Enterprise Institute came into the picture with their unsolicited testimonial in favor of the report being a complete fraud, numbers-wise, science was officially off the table as leverage for the league and Ted Wells did a Howard Hughes, emerging from isolation on Tuesday to join Forty or so other legal types in the dungeon at the NFL offices on Park Avenue, which is just a short slither from his own posh digs.

Brady's appeal hearing on Tuesday morning had the feel of a senate judiciary committee meeting - according to reports coming out of both the NFL and Brady's camps - but the contrast in how things went for Brady were as pronounced as the flaws in the Wells Report, with Brady's attorney telling the media that the quarterback was stoic and truthful in his sworn testimony, while NFL spokesman Greg Aielo boasted that Brady hadn't offered anything new and it would be difficult for the commissioner to find a reason to reduce his penalties.

Brady testified under oath at the hearing, which is an aggressive maneuver by his attorney, Jeffery Kessler, that tells the NFL that his client is prepared to take this to court, and is already poised to do so.  Like the rest of the country, Kessler knows that the league set up Brady and the Patriots, and in having Brady offer testimony under penalty of perjury, he put the NFL on the defensive and on the spot.

How?  Simply by doing what the league is loathe to do and, ultimately, afraid to do - because Brady is the only player in this foul game of pin the tail on the donkey whose story has never changed and, as a result, has never been scrutinized.  Sure, there are many who don't believe Brady's side of the story - whether by preconceived notion or by aid of false leaks emanating from Madison Avenue - but he has never wavered in his conviction...

...whereas the executives at NFL headquarters have been caught in lie after lie, first allowing information to leak out to the press, then using Aielo to debunk those reports as reporter's speculation - a very tidy little operation.

Brady's oath is a direct threat to the integrity of everyone involved on the side of the National Football League, because if Goodell does not eliminate Brady's suspension, Kessler will file an immediate temporary injunction in federal court, compelled by a claim of unfair labor practice and unfair procedure, needing only Brady's testimony to meet the standard of the court to support his claim...

...using the language in Ted Wells' own report of a Preponderance of the Evidence against him and setting the stage for a battle that the league is ill-equipped to fight, given the overwhelming circumstantial evidence against them from scientific sources, the list of which grows by the day, and which paints the Wells Report as the smoking gun in an attempt to frame Brady and, therefore, the Patriots.

The federal appeals court can then find either for Brady or the league, and takes into consideration the methods in which evidence is collected as part of the league's fiduciary duties to it's employees, which strictly prohibits clandestine attempts to secure unfair gain - or, in lay terms, whether or not the NFL deliberately attempted to deceive the parties using fraudulent (Wells Report) means.

Fraud is tough to prove, that is, unless one is armed with a 264-page smoking gun that has been proven by independent sources to be inaccurate, yet the league clings to it like lint to a blanket - but the Wells Report is only the most visible evidence that the NFL framed the Patriots, and the deeper any investigation goes into the matter, the more suspect the league becomes.

So, how long does it take before Goodell becomes just as paranoid as Richard Nixon?  How long before his cronies attempt to cover up a league sponsored frame job becomes exposed?  And, how long before Goodell resigns in disgrace?

Chances are, he won't be allowed to hand-pick his successor, nor will there be a helicopter waiting to whisk him away to seclusion and shameful exile - and all because Goodell, Kensil, Blandino et al haven't taken into account how history set a precedent for corruption, particularly Watergate, wherein Nixon's crimes - Obstruction of Justice, Abuse of Power and Contempt of Congress - led to his resignation once the media started asking questions.

Is there a case of Obstruction of Justice (Wells Report)?  Abuse of Power (Brady's and the Patriots' excessive punishments)?  Contempt of Congress?  Congress is not involved in this filthy drama, but the actions of the commissioner's office should be held in contempt by the public for trying to pass off their many lies on a constituency that they must view as moronic.

It should be exciting to the public that the sports media has focused its collective efforts to discredit the executives of the National Football League just as the press united to take down a corrupt President - and while the game of football can't compare to the fate of a government standing in the balance, corruption is still corruption and fraud is still fraud, no matter the venue...

...and in a world where sports plays a vital role in the fellowship of man and provides one of the welcome few distractions from the horrors of every day life, the taking down of a league should not be taken lightly - but just like the Nixon Administration, if it is by their own doing, it must be undone.

And in the end, it is going to be the sports' writer who causes it to be.

"It is necessary for me to establish a winner image; therefore I have to beat somebody.", Nixon was fond of saying, along with "People react to fear, not love.  They don't teach that in Sunday School, but it's true."

Did Roger Goodell take the course that Richard Nixon did in abusing the power of his office to beat down his enemies?  Did he use the media to not only sway public opinion against the Patriots, but also to instill fear in them? It might take a while, but the world will eventually find out.


  1. Mr. Hamm's entry here belongs on the Front Pages of USA Today or The New York Times as this nation's first thorough and accurate juxtaposition of why the NFL's DeflateGate effort earned its nickname from the Government's dirty Watergate corruption andy over up,