An ESPN article earlier this week containing dozens of rumors about supposed cheating by the New England Patriots may be related to an internal National Football League coup to kick Roger Goodell out as NFL commissioner, a top reporter for the NBC network suggested Friday.
The ESPN piece was written with an agenda, according to Mike Florio, who spoke to Boston radio station WEEI on Friday, and while discrediting the Patriots appears to be one of the motives behind the article, discrediting Goodell also appears to be a main element of the agenda.
The article, “Spygate to Deflategate: Inside What Split The NFL And Patriots Apart,” was published Tuesday on the ESPN site, and was also the basis for a report on the network’s Outside the Lines investigative news broadcast.
While containing no documentation or direct evidence, the ESPN report made public numerous rumors circulating in NFL circles of such alleged Patriots chicanery as serving warm Gatorade to visiting teams and rummaging through garbage bins in search of discarded play diagrams, as well as other bizarre scenarios.
Earlier this week, ESPN also censored a column by one of its own writers to remove information critical of the network’s attacks on the Patriots.
According to Florio, while the Patriots organization and Coach Bill Belichick are clearly upset by the largely unfounded ESPN attack, some officials in the NFL league office are also angry because the ESPN story attacks Goodell’s handling of the Patriots as well.
“I know somebody who understands the dynamics of the league office [who] is convinced that there were league office sources who were feeding ESPN information with two agendas,” said Florio, editor of the NBC-owned site Pro Football Talk. “To retaliate against the Patriots and to set Roger Goodell up for eventually being thrown out of office, because there are people who have their eyes on that job.”
“That’s where this thing gets really bizarre,” he added. “Is there a coup in the works? I don’t know.”
Belichick himself took the unsual step of responding directly to the ESPN piece, and a similar story that ran on the Sports Illustrated site also on Tuesday, during a Friday morning media conference call.
“I just think overall, it’s kind of sad, really, to see some stories written that obviously have an agenda to them with misinformation and anonymous type comments,” said the 63-year-old Belichick, in an extraordinary statement for a coach known for his extreme media reticence.
“Writing about warm drinks and trash cans and stuff like that, it’s just a sad commentary and it’s gone to a pretty low level. It’s sunk pretty deep,” the Patriots coach said.
In perhaps a veiled shot at the various opposing coaches and executives who have accused the Patriots of “cheating” after suffering defeats at the hands of the New England franchise, Belichick described the team’s philosophy as “built on competition and trying to improve every day and trying to work hard — and it’s not built on excuses.”
[Image: Darren McCollester / Getty Images]