New England Patriots fans have been suspicious that the top NFL brass is out to get their team after the seemingly endless Deflategate affair — so the latest news will only serve to confirm those suspicions further. According a story broken by the Boston Herald newspaper on Friday, NFL security officials interrogated three employees on the sidelines during last Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, after the Jets complained to the league that the three employees might have been up to something nefarious.
What that nefarious activity might have been remains unclear. The Herald report stated that the Jets “demanded to know whether the radio frequencies and stadium operations were performed up to an appropriate standard.”
The new Patriots news came just a day after a similar report that the NFL had performed a “sweep” for electronic surveillance devices in the Jets locker room at Gillette Stadium before the game against New England.
The Patriots themselves, according to Mike Florio of the NBC-owned Pro Football Talk site, have requested that the NFL perform such sweeps because given the atmosphere of hysteria around New England “cheating” allegations, the team is worried that opponents might plant their own bugging devices in the locker room — and then claim that the bug was planted by the Patriots organization.
But the NFL refused to assist the Patriots in their efforts to avoid becoming the victims of a frame-up. However, NFL officials went ahead and searched for surveillance devices anyway last Sunday.
That was before the game. During the game, NFL security officials Lenny Bandy and Dick Farley accosted the three employees during the second quarter of the game, in response to a request from the Jets.
Pro Football Talk received a leaked email confirming the Jets’ involvement.
“Jets Security Director Robert Mastroddi made an inquiry with NFL Security regarding the presence of two individuals wearing headsets and Patriots attire, who were positioned outside of the bench area on the Patriots sideline… Mastroddi requested to know who they were, and expressed concern given their proximity to the Patriots bench.”
As it turned out, the PFT investigation found, the three were employees not of the New England Patriots football team, but of Kraft Sports, a separate company also owned Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
The main job of the three employees was to manage such “in-stadium entertainment,” and the music played through Gillette Stadium speakers during breaks in play during the game.
One of the three was also in charge of keeping the referee’s microphone supplied with fresh batteries.
When told of the employee’s job regarding the referee’s microphone, Mastroddi didn’t believe it until one of the NFL security officials connected him by phone to the NFL head office on Park Avenue in New York City and had the situation explained to him.
The NFL says it found no wrongdoing by any of the Kraft Sports employees, but the “sideline shakedown,” as one Boston sportswriter termed the incident, appears to indicate that the NFL remains on a crusade to convict the Patriots of — something.
“The recent record the NFL’s Operations guys shows they are capable of taking an accusation and assembling what turns out to be flimsy evidence. And that said flimsy evidence can then be bastardized, sensationalized and passed along to the media,” wrote Comcast Sports New England correspondent Tom E. Curran on Saturday.
Curran noted that the Jets confrontation was the second time this season that the NFL has acted on a complaint from an opposing team who suspected the Patriots of some sort of hanky-panky. After the season opener, Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said that his headset had been interfered with — but the NFL said that the league itself, not the Patriots, would have been responsible for any headset malfunction.
“There should be a point at which the league declares it needs some probable cause. Otherwise, these monthly, franchise-wide colonoscopies will continue until — inevitably — someone finds something that really isn’t anything.”
But with the NFL filing an appeal in Deflategate, and repeatedly showing an eagerness to investigate any complaint against the New England Patriots no matter how baseless, that point still appears to be some time away.
[Featured Photo By Tom Pennington / Getty Images]