This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Last week's half-million-dollar fine of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick for cheating has flared in nationwide headlines in a non-stop continuum of outrage. Yet at least half the pundits weighing in tell us that this brand of cheating goes on willy-nilly in the NFL and it's really no big deal.
Studying, going so far as to infiltrate enemy camps, is a long-standing practice in the NFL culture. Teams have literally hired people adept at reading lips and planted them with binoculars in the coaches' booths up top to read the lips of the opponent's coach on the sidelines. That's why you'll see the offensive coordinator or head coach holding a clipboard in front of their mouths as they bark out plays.
There have been documented cases of teams sending plants posing as painters and carpenters into opponents' closed practice sessions, to clandestinely record and overhear the plays. When the cleaning crew sweeps through a team's corporate jet and finds a depth chart or game plan for a upcoming game, it is often a fake, left behind on purpose because there have been suspicions that the cleaning crew is actually a spy ring for the week-end's opposing team. Same thing in the home offices. Most NFL coaches have their own dedicated shredders for their paperwork. And nighttime security and cleaning staff are carefully screened, to ensure their legitimacy. You may sense this all sounds like overblown paranoia. After all, how much benefit could knowledge of another team's plays provide?
Well, compare it to a more simple example of reading a tennis serve. If you're on the other side of a blistering Andy Roddick 140-plus mile-an-hour rocket, it surely would behoove you to know beforehand if he were going down the middle, out wide, or into your body. In a football game, 22 guys are moving at warp speed. If the defense knows a sweep around the left side is coming, they move like lightning to squash that running back behind the line of scrimmage.
Belichick is a master at not only upfront strategies, but at under-the-radar tactics as well. Last year at this time, he brought in a wide receiver from the Buffalo Bills, a player he evidently had no intention whatsoever of starting, or even keeping on the roster. He knew the player was disgruntled in Buffalo and Belichick simply wanted to pick his brain for a myriad of details out of the Bills' playbook. The player was let go after five days, after he sang like a canary.
At the same time Belichick was called to the mat last week for his spying, a crew was caught at the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, spying through a two-way mirror on a strategy meeting in a conference room. And Belichick's half-million-dollar fine seems like peanuts compared to the $100 million slapped on the Formula One McLaren racing team for stealing inside technical information from Ferrari.
Bill Belichick's crime wasn't the action itself. His videotaping shenanigans were not only a modern continuation of decades-long NFL tradition, but in keeping with common practice across much of the sports world. His error in judgment came in not recognizing the M.O. of the new sheriff in town. New NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been ever so clear in his actions over the past year. You cross every 'T,' follow every rule as it is expressly written in the by-laws, or you face point blank due punishment. Belichick was slapped on the wrist last year for the exact same videotape spy maneuvers against Green Bay. But this is not just a new year for the NFL. It's a new era. What was once accepted with a wink across the league is now verboten. Expert lip readers no longer need apply.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.