WASHINGTON – With the Super Bowl fast approaching, a senior Republican senator says he wants the NFL to explain why it destroyed evidence of the New England Patriots cheating scandal.
"I am very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in a Thursday letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the matter could put the league's antitrust exemption at risk.
"Their antitrust exemption has been on my mind for a long time," he said in a Capitol Hill news conference.
The matter may not compare to the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes, Specter said, but he added, "I do believe that it is a matter of importance. It's not going to displace the stimulus package or the Iraq war, but I think the integrity of football is very important, and I think the National Football League has a special duty to the American people -- and further the Congress -- because they have an antitrust exemption."
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he didn't know anything about it during a Friday news conference.
"It's a league matter," said Belichick, whose Patriots play Sunday in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants.
Goodell said he didn't think Spygate had tainted the Patriots' accomplishments.
"What they did this season was done within the rules, on a level playing field," Goodell said. "There are very good explanations why I destroyed the tapes, or had them destroyed by our staff."
He said destroying the tapes was "the best way for me to make sure the Patriots had followed my instructions."
Locking up the evidence proved not to be an option.
"We thought we had locked it up, and it got out five days later," Goodell said. "That was one of my concerns."
The New York Times first reported on Specter's letter.
NFL security confiscated a video camera and tape from a Patriots employee during New England's 38-14 victory over the New York Jets. The employee was accused of aiming his camera at the Jets' defensive coaches as they signaled to players on the field.
Goodell fined Belichick $500,000, the maximum amount, and docked the team $250,000 and a first-round draft pick. 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.
After its investigation, the NFL said it destroyed all materials it received from the Patriots.
In a Jan. 31 letter to Specter which the senator released Friday, Goodell said the tapes and notes on the investigation were destroyed to ensure that the Patriots "would not secure any possible competitive advantage as a result of the misconduct."
Specter said the explanation "absolutely makes no sense at all," and blasted the commissioner for failing to respond to his inquiries on the matter for more than two months. Goodell said in his letter that he just became aware of Specter's questions Thursday.
"There's a credibility issue here," Specter said.
He stopped short of charging a cover-up, but warned that the judiciary panel may want to probe the matter.
In the meantime, Specter said he might miss Sunday's big game.
"I may play squash while it's on," Specter said.