There is a certain stench emanating from Foxborough, Massachusetts — home of the New England Patriots, a team whose onetime National Football League dynasty aroused as much suspicion as awe. A similar odor can be traced to a country club in Palm Beach, Florida, where onetime President Donald Trump now calls home.
That Trump and Patriots owner Robert Kraft have formed a mutual admiration society comes as no surprise. Nor does the credible assertion that America’s 45th president enabled one of the more shameful episodes in the Patriots’ storied history.
That Trump and Patriots owner Robert Kraft have formed a mutual admiration society comes as no surprise.
Remember “Spygate?” New England certainly does. Spygate was the nickname for the Patriots’ illegal videotaping of opposing coaches’ signals in 2007 to increase their chances of winning games.
After an investigation, the NFL fined the Patriots $250,000 and their prickly head coach, Bill Belichick, $500,000 and took away their first-round pick in the following year’s draft.
These sound like big numbers, but in fact they amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist. A much stiffer penalty, such as a playoff ban, could have been imposed. Instead, the Patriots went to the Super Bowl that season.
The details of this scandal are mostly public record. But it now appears that Trump may have lent a helping hand. At least, that’s according to the son of former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter — who abruptly ended his investigation into Spygate in 2008 — as well as one of Specter’s former aides.
Specter could have held the Patriots and the NFL accountable, or perhaps publicly shamed a sports league, as former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell did when he investigated steroid use in Major League Baseball in 2007.
However, ESPN reported that after a private dinner in 2008, Trump told Specter he could deliver a campaign contribution large enough to make Spygate disappear.
If true, wouldn't such an overture — which ESPN does not report was ever consummated — be considered that a bribe?
ESPN interviewed several election experts — one said yes without hesitation; another said there was enough grey for it to be considered a campaign contribution instead of a bribe.
No wonder so many people find politics odious.
Both Trump and the Patriots seem devoted to the maxim, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.”
Specter died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012. We’ll never know if he would confirm what his son and former aide are saying now. Specter, after leaving politics, also could have publicly called Trump on his innuendo. The senator didn’t do that either.
Spokespersons for Trump and Kraft deny the allegations. But that’s worth about as much as a degree from Trump University.
Both Trump and the Patriots seem devoted to the maxim, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” Even after Spygate, the Patriots have allegedly continued to flout the rules.
In January 2015, the Patriots were accused of deflating footballs, making it easier for quarterback Tom Brady to riddle the Indianapolis Colts with touchdown passes in the American Football Conference championship game.
NFL rules have since been changed to prevent such alleged shenanigans.
On the other hand, the Patriots won the Super Bowl that season. Undoubtedly, Trump cheered them on.
Had the NFL truly been interested in getting to the bottom of Spygate, it would have. But Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted the bad publicity to go away.
Indeed, the NFL has become proficient at making the uncomfortable go away. When Trump railed against San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality against Blacks and systemic racism, the NFL did not oppose Trump. It blackballed Kaepernick.
Clearly, the NFL wants no part of Kaepernick. His spoken truths are inconvenient. He has gone the way of Spygate — something football fans remember but rarely discuss.
Even fewer fans seem to remember Spygate II, when a Patriots crew illegally videotaped the Cincinnati Bengals’ coaching signals in 2019. The Patriots were fined $1.1 million and docked a 2021 third-round draft pick for that offense.
The far heftier fine would seem to indicate that even the NFL has grown tired of this mess.
Trump decisively lost his bid for a second term as president. Since then, he has claimed, without a shred of evidence, that the election was “stolen.” Trump’s big lie led his most unhinged supporters to desecrate the U.S. Capitol in a riot that led to five people's deaths on Jan. 6.
Before being shown the White House door, Trump tried to bestow Belichick with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. But the week after the Capitol riot, Belichick refused it. The Hall of Fame coach has no patience for losers.
The Patriots missed the playoffs last season while Brady won his seventh Super Bowl championship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No longer is Trump perceived as a winner. Neither are the Patriots. And while American politics is as odious as ever, the winds of change may finally be starting to clear the air in the NFL.