While Roger Clemens was stealing all the headlines Wednesday in Washington D.C., at the same time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was being taken to task by Sen. Arlen Specter, who has threatened the NFL with the removal of its anti-trust exemption in the aftermath of the Spygate scandal. But is this a congressional matter? Furthermore, should Specter be the person who leads the charge?
Lost in the spectacle that surrounded the Congressional hearings involving Roger Clemens and his alleged steroid/HGH abuse Wednesday was that, on another part of Capitol Hill, another Roger - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – was getting grilled by Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. At question was whether Goodell was within his rights to destroy evidence in the Spygate case against the Patriots.
Specter stuck his nose into the Spygate matter after it was learned that the illegal taping of defensive signals being called in by opponents pre-dated the Patriots being caught in 2007. In fact, one of the teams to complain that they thought there was potentially illegal taping going on was the Vikings – who filed a complaint in 2006 after seeing things that threw up red flags during their Monday night game with the Patriots. Some had asked why the Patriots would tape signals of a team they would play just once every four years. The answer became much clearer when Mike Tomlin was hired as the Steelers head coach. Having Tomlin’s defensive signals on file made a lot more sense in hindsight when he signed with one of the Pats' chief rivals. But the bigger question is this: Why is Specter making such a stink over something that would appear to be an internal business matter?
The most obvious reason would be his constituency. Specter made a point to announce that he would seek another term in the Senate in 2010 and he is looking to make points with the blue collar fans of his home state – perhaps the most rabid and sometimes punkish fans in the league. On their march to Super Bowl XLII, rumors surfaced that the Patriots taped the final walk-through of the Rams during their Super Bowl matchup years earlier. In between those matchups was a Patriots win over the Eagles in the Super Bowl and it was believed Specter’s interest was centered on putting an asterisk next to that win.
Whatever his motivation, Specter should be the last person criticizing someone else’s investigation. In the form of a brief history lesson, Specter came to national prominence and received the kind of recognition that propels political candidates when he served on the Warren Commission, which most historians view as an inept, incomplete investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Unlike probes that hire investigators with a police background, the Warren Commission investigators were made up almost entirely of lawyers. They weren’t necessarily looking for all the facts, they were looking for a scenario in which the Warren Report would serve as a legal brief explaining why Lee Harvey Oswald was guilty. If facts didn’t jibe with the one-man, three-shots-from-the-Book Depository theory, they were quickly discarded. Eyewitness statements were ignored. Compelling evidence that others were involved was slanted or swept under the rug and evidence that had historical significance was routinely destroyed. It seems ironic that Specter would criticize Goodell for the destruction of evidence. While Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Kennedy were both famous men from Massachusetts, the similarities end there.
For those with any knowledge of the Kennedy assassination, they know that, up until the 11th hour of the “investigation,” there were serious flaws in the commission’s theory and that the commission was having a difficult time making three shots in a little over six seconds work for a shooter with a cheap Italian-made bolt-action rifle. With the wounds to the president and Texas Gov. John Connally, as well as a bystander named James Tague who was slightly injured by a piece of shrapnel from a missed shot, it seemed clear that the commission was dealing with four shots – one more than Oswald could have possibly fired in the short window of time that the shooting took place. Enter Arlen Specter.
At the time, Specter was a junior counsel with the Warren Commission, which was scrambling to find a way to achieve its goal of soothing the American public that Oswald was the lone assassin and didn’t have any confederates that could still be at large. Desperate to make the lone gunman theory work, Specter proposed a theory so against the laws of physics that it became known as the Magic Bullet Theory. While many people have likely heard of the MBT, they may not know that it was Specter’s creation – his lone theory.
For those unfamiliar with the Magic Bullet Theory, a shot allegedly fired by Oswald from 60 feet above the president’s limousine at a clear downward angle hit Kennedy in the back at the level of the third thoracic vertebra, moved upward to exit Kennedy’s throat, then hit Connally in the chest blowing away three inches of one of his ribs, went through his right wrist and shattered a dense, heavy bone and somehow tumbled and lodged in his left thigh. The bullet that was said to be the magic bullet was found on a stretcher at Parkland Hospital in Dallas (not in Connally’s body) and the bullet was in pristine condition with no deformity or even traces of blood or tissue on it.
Specter’s theory was so outlandish that a minority of the Warren Commission members wanted to write a second conclusion that claimed they didn’t want to sign off on Specter’s MBT. But, in the Cold War hysteria of the early 1960s, it was felt that it was in the public good to keep a uniform front that Oswald was the killer, he acted alone and was simply a “lone nut” with no ties to any conspiracy, foreign or domestic. Thanks to Arlen Specter, Oswald’s guilt became cemented in the minds of the American public. It was only when the video of the assassination, locked away by Time-Life for more than a decade, surfaced, that public opinion began to turn. But, despite other investigations that followed, the MBT still stands as the official government conclusion on the assassination.
Goodell said Wednesday he has nothing to hide and believes he did the right thing in policing his business. Most would agree that the government has much more pressing issues than to find a deeper conspiracy in the Spygate scandal – much less having Specter lead the charge. For a man at the center of the most controversial murder investigation in history, he wouldn’t seem to be the man that heads up an investigation into the NFL. Unless he’s going to concoct the Mute Button Theory that says the Pats couldn’t actually hear what they were taping, perhaps Mr. Specter should spend more of his time investigating things that matter to Congress, not trying to curry votes from Eagles fans who now feel like they were jobbed by the Patriots. Besides, the Eagles covered the point spread in that game, so Philly gamblers came out just fine in the long run.