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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

To borrow a line from “Cool Hand Luke” and apply it to the New England Patriots and Houston Astros: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

The 2018 Super Bowl champions and 2017 World Series champions find themselves embroiled in cheating scandals today because they apparently don’t understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable forms of stealing.


There’s nothing inappropriate about a runner on second base picking up on the catcher’s signals and relying the information to the batter. It’s perfectly fine if an assistant football coach stands on the sideline, decodes the opponents’ signs, and shares those findings during the game.

We call those actions “sign stealing,” but that’s a misnomer in these instances.

The power of observation in conjunction with deductive reasoning is to be celebrated, not viewed as misconduct.

But the Patriots and Astros seemingly crossed the line between honest-to-goodness brain power and a flat-out breach of fair play. Due to their past transgressions, neither franchise has earned the benefit of the doubt.

This is the Patriots‘ second time being caught at forbidden surveillance. In the original case, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell found that New England taped the New York Jets’ signals in 2007. He initially said it was a fairly recent practice, but later admitted that the Patriots had been snooping on opponents since 2000.

Coach Bill Belichick said Spygate was much ado but nothing much. Now, with the NFL investigating Spygate II, after the Patriots were caught filming the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline on Sunday, Belichick says he’s totally clueless.

He very well could be telling the truth. It’s hard to believe he’d be that brazen, considering the penalties last time: a $500,000 personal fine, $250,000 team fine, and a first-round draft pick.

But even if Belichick is being honest, the Patriots deserve to be hammered.

A full year before they were busted in 2007, the NFL issued a memo emphasizing that “videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited.” You’d think someone from New England would’ve stressed that policy to its film crew at the Bengals-Browns game.

Cynics suggest that someone on the Patriots, if not Belichick himself, knew exactly what the film crew was doing and provided a familiar alibi if caught.

In a 2015 investigative piece by ESPN, a former Patriots videographer said his coworkers were provided excuses to offer if ever questioned about their activity. One cover story was: Collecting footage for a team show.

Lo and behold! The Patriots issued a statement this week claiming that the videographers in Cleveland were capturing scenes for “a feature on the Patriots scouting department. … There was no intention of using the footage for any other purpose.”

That explanation might fly if the Patriots were more credible and less devious.

The organization said it accepts full responsibility for the crew unknowingly violating league policy. Due to the team’s willful violation 12 years ago, the penalty should be even stiffer. Given New England’s shady history, ignorance is no excuse and neither is unintentionality.

While Goodell might weigh the Patriots‘ veracity, the case against Houston seems like an easy pop up for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers has revealed insider information on the alleged rule-breaking scheme that involved a center field camera, a headset, and a trash can. Video of an Astros‘ game seems to confirm that Houston players banged on the trash can to relay pitch information from the dugout to the batter’s box during their 2017 World Series run.

There’s no way for Houston to spin its way out.

“Good old-fashioned sign stealing from your eyeballs, that’s not cheating,” Los Angles Angeles manager Joe Maddon told reporters this week at MLB’s winter meetings. “It’s just good baseball. When you use electronic cheating, that’s not good. It’s almost tantamount to steroids in regards to an imbalanced playing field.”

Maddon is among several managers who said they either heard or suspected that the Astros were breaking the rules. Yes, lots of people in baseball don’t like Houston and are jealous of the team’s success.

But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about the Astros being cheaters.

“I wasn’t shocked,” Phillies skipper Joe Girardi told reporters when asked about the sign-stealing accusations. Girardi was the New York Yankees manager in 2017 when they lost the American League Championship Series against Houston. “We had put in a lot of things to try to combat certain things,” he said. “You know, word gets around.”

The word about Houston and New England has been around for a while.

It’s time for Manfred and Goodell to send the cheating champions a message that they can’t misinterpret.

The communication should be loud, clear, and long lasting.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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