NFL fined Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and team $250,000 for spying on opponent
AP Sports Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) ” Bill Belichick is ready for his close-up.
The Patriots’ coach escaped suspension for using a video camera to spy on opposing coaches, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell deciding instead on Thursday night to fine him $500,000 and dock the team $250,000 and a first-day draft pick next year.
It was the biggest fine ever for a coach and the first time in NFL history a first-round draft pick has been confiscated as a penalty. But Belichick will be on the sideline Sunday night, as planned, when the Patriots play the San Diego Chargers.
Belichick was peppered with questions on the scandal Friday morning, when he seemed bemused by the repeated attempts to get him to expand on his earlier statement in which he accepted “full responsibility for the actions” that led to the ruling.
“It’s over, and we’re moving on,” the coach said. “All my energy and focus and attention is on the San Diego Chargers and that game.”
Belichick did allow that he would change the team’s videotaping procedures. Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella, whose camera was confiscated while he was on the Jets’ sideline, will not be on the sideline.
Goodell found the Patriots guilty of using videotape to try to steal the New York Jets’ signals during Sunday’s game. He ordered New England to surrender next year’s first-round draft choice if it reaches the playoffs, and second- and third-round picks if it doesn’t.
“I specifically considered whether to impose a suspension on Coach Belichick,” Goodell wrote in a letter to the team. “I have determined not to do so, largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension.”
Both the NFL and Belichick stressed that the camera was seized before the end of the first quarter and had no impact on the game, which the Patriots won 38-14.
“This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field,” Goodell wrote.
The NFL statement said Goodell believed owner Robert Kraft was unaware of Belichick’s actions. But the commissioner penalized the club because of Belichick’s “substantial control over all aspects of New England’s football operations.”
“His actions and decisions are properly attributed to the club,” Goodell said.
Reached at his home, Kraft declined to comment.
In a statement issued two hours after the punishment was announced, Belichick said he misinterpreted the league’s rules but acknowledged that “part of my job as head coach is to ensure that our football operations are conducted in compliance of the league rules and all accepted interpretations of them.”
“I accept full responsibility for the actions that led to tonight’s ruling,” the statement said. “Once again, I apologize to the Kraft family and every person directly or indirectly associated with the New England Patriots for the embarrassment, distraction and penalty my mistake caused. I also apologize to Patriots fans and would like to thank them for their support during the past few days and throughout my career.”
The Jets said they “support the commissioner and his findings.”
New England has been accused of illegal videotaping before, but the team was caught on Sunday when a camera was confiscated from Estrella while he was on the Jets’ sideline during the game at Giants Stadium.
NFL rules state, in part: “no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches’ booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game.” That was re-emphasized in a memo sent Sept. 6 to NFL head coaches and general managers in which the league said: “Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.”
Belichick is the first head coach to land on Goodell’s crowded docket, but the commissioner has made good conduct the hallmark of his administration.
He banned Tennessee cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones for the entire season after repeated run-ins with police. Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely while he faces a likely jail term for his role in a dogfighting ring.
Goodell also told the Patriots that the NFL would closely review and monitor their coaching video program, effective immediately.
But some of New England’s past opponents wanted the penalty to be more harsh.
“I think they should forfeit, man,” said Reno Mahe, whose Philadelphia Eagles lost the 2005 Super Bowl to the Patriots. “We won the Super Bowl. I think we should get it. I’m going to go trade my NFC championship ring for a Super Bowl ring.”
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