By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Who am I kidding? You've already made up your mind on the Patriots' newest "cheating" scandal. You either want the Patriots to be stripped of their Super Bowl titles and see Bill Belichick sent to prison for life or you're taking the Patriots at their word and believing that this is indeed an oversight and non-story.
It's that latter belief that I want those aligning with the former to consider here, and boil this controversy down to one simple question: Do you believe the Patriots?
If I have a grip on who you are -- those dusting off their 'Cheatriots' nickname likely live outside the six-state mecca and prefer the PM-15 or LJ-8 method over the TB-12 approach of eating nothing-that-tastes-good in your pursuit of unparalleled dominance of your craft -- I know you don't. They're the
Patriots Cheatriots after all, and you've already convinced yourself that they're responsible for all of football's many atrocities. You already know it was Ernie Adams who shipped the Chiefs' bags to Newark.
But humor me here.
Let's start with the most obvious question: Would the Patriots -- the team, not the video production department, clearly and repeatedly stated as completely separate entities -- seriously try to film the Bengals' sideline?
I can't dance around the fact that this idea seems straight-up laughable. Now, this doubt isn't solely created by Cincinnati's woeful 1-12 record on the season. It plays a part, but it's not the No. 1 factor for my snickering at the mere thought. That comes because this would mean that the Patriots were filming sidelines in broad daylight. If you're going to cheat in 2019, it's hard to imagine that you're going to do it in a press box full of nosy reporters. And if you're the Patriots and doing that, there's a one billion percent chance of getting caught, as the man (in a Bruins hat) filming did, according to reports. That'd take a special kind of stupid, and it's hard to imagine that the Patriots are employing such brazen dummies given the hell they've already been through with the fallouts of their previous scandals, from the loss of picks to suspensions to hits to their reputation.
The Patriots have history on their side, too, as the "Do Your Job" series is not exactly new. These features have focused on everybody from team chefs to equipment managers to the team's college scouting department. (The feature on the team chef has been the most popular on YouTube, by the way, with 1.6 million views as of Tuesday morning.) Sunday's filming in Cleveland was set to focus on the job of one of the team's pro scouts, and how they did their job. The Patriots confirmed that they got clearance from the Browns to use their press box for this, too. They admitted that their failure to notify the Bengals and Browns of this was an oversight on their part (probably can't and shouldn't happen when people think you're the boogeyman, but that's another topic), but it's not as if the project as a whole was something the Patriots tried to keep under wraps. They first had to gain access to Cleveland's stadium and press box, likely explain the project to those granting access, and then proceed.
(As somebody who's had to request credentials for the last decade, I'd feel relatively comfortable suggesting that there's a zero point zero chance this was a "sure, come on down!" kind of credentialing. The Patriots are, again, everybody's boogeyman, so why on Earth would you have a no questions asked approach with their camera crew?)
And this would be one hell of a long con to get an advantage over... the Bengals?
I'm supposed to believe that Belichick and the Patriots would risk legitimately destroying their legacy and the franchise's operation to gain some sort of advantage over... the Bengals? That's when the Bengals' status as one of the worst franchises in the league is rightfully brought into frame. Things may not be what they've been in the past -- the Patriots have lost three out of their last five games and are not necessarily guaranteed a first-round bye (or AFC East title) this year -- but they're not "nefariously seeking advantages over the one-win Bengals" bad.
There's just some obvious smell test issues here.
But these points bring us to our next, and perhaps most important, discussion.
If the Patriots are telling the truth, the film crew in Cincinnati was made up of independent contractors. This has been the organization's claim from the start, and Belichick has now twice stated that they have no involvement with that department. That seems plausible, or creates plausible deniability, at the very least. (I still have the absolute hardest time wrapping my head around the idea that the Patriots had a legitimate employee of the team borderline asking for trouble in an opposing press box.)
"I have no involvement in this and no knowledge of it, and so I really don’t have any idea what exactly is going on," Belichick said on Tuesday morning. "I can tell you that we’ve never, as a coaching staff and me personally, have never viewed any video footage at all of anything that those production people have done, other than what’s shown on public television or something like that. But, we don’t have anything to do with what they do, so I really don’t have much knowledge of the situation at all."
That 'independent contractor' element opens up a potentially key point when it comes to the organization's guilt or innocence, too. Let's be real: Freelancers are sometimes kinda dumb (I used to be one, so consider me to be a confirmation of sorts) and often do not know the rules. Not to the degree of a team official or employee, anyway. I can't tell you how many times I've had a first-timer or freelancer turn and ask me if he was allowed to do something. Or how many times I've seen a team's PR staff yell at a first-timer or freelancer for violating the rules of their credential or league policy. It happens at a rate that'd probably surprise you.
This person's reported reaction of simply asking if they could pretend this never happened (just picture the worst mob movie in the world), only to fully cooperate with the league's request to seize the tape would speak to a rather guerrilla, or inexperienced at the very least, operation. Like everything already discussed, it's hard to imagine the Patriots' alleged espionage crew being given "just ask if you can pretend it never happened" directives in the event of getting caught red-handed.
You're essentially trying to tell me that an employee of the Patriots, the team that's prepared for literally everything that possibly happen or be thrown their way, wasn't prepared while trying to commit what would be straight-up obvious cheating.
Again, that's where I come back to the smell test issues.
"What was going through their head?" is surely going to be the biggest question circling the newest chapter of filming controversy.
But the Patriots, even in accepting responsibility, have made it abundantly clear that they did nothing to put any thoughts in the head of these independent contractors, meaning that that pointed question -- for now anyway -- should be directed towards the still-unknown freelancer.
So with such little information available when it comes to the video, the simplest question for all of us right now is, do you believe the Patriots? Or is this just the start of another mind-melting 'investigation' this organization legitimately can't afford?
Who am I kidding? You've already made up your mind.