The Senator from Comcast?: Arlen Specter and SpyGate

SpyGate is the sports scandal du jour. It centers on the New England Patriots surreptitious videotaping of the New York Jets last September and the subsequent destruction of the evidence by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In response to Goodell's gaffe, Senator Arlen Specter has been raising hell on the Hill. Sounds normal enough. We all know politicians have a chemical addiction to the ESPN/C-SPAN simulcast. Well, something stinks in the world of SpyGate. Call it a spectre over Specter. Call it a distasteful conflict of interest. Call it manna from heaven for Coach Bill Belichick and his morally impaired Patriots staff. Call it an unfair accusation against an august Senator with motives more pure than a Troy Aikman spiral. But whatever you call it, don't say that tongues aren't wagging in NFL suites and behind the closed doors of Congress.

The story begins with the righteous anger of the cancer-surviving, 78-year-old Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter. He has presented himself to the sports world as the populist of pigskin, pushing back against the big, bad NFL in what has become known as SpyGate. Specter has shredded NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the press for destroying videotapes of the Patriots spying on the New York Jets during their Sept. 9 season-opening game.

The longtime GOP Senator from Pennsylvania effectively called Goodell a liar, saying, "The commissioner's explanation as to why he destroyed the tapes does not ring true."

Specter says he has taken up this crusade because he is a football fan haunted by the Patriots three-point Super Bowl win over his Philadelphia Eagles.

He has also said, "I think the Congress has a legitimate interest. It really all melds together with their other practices, which are not really too concerned about the fan and the consumers. We have a right to have honest football games that are played according to the rules."

Yet, a closer look at Specter's incentives reveals what some say is a most unpleasant stench.

Long before Spygate, dating to 1983 according to aides, Specter has railed against the antitrust exemption held by the NFL. He has, his supporters say, objected to the way they can blithely move teams and take public funds to build stadiums. Yet in recent years, the object of Specter's NFL ire has been the NFL Network and its exclusive relationship with DirecTV. The Philadelphia-based Comcast cable company is in a war with the NFL over whether they can charge their customers for the NFL Network, unlike DirecTV.

Here is where we start to get filthy. Specter was described to me by an opponent as "the Senator from the great state of Comcast." Is this fair?

Comcast is the No. 2 source of campaign funds for the Senator. Comcast execs and employees have given a reported $153,600 in contributions, going back to 1989. The No. 1 contributor since '89 is Blank Rome LLC, a lobbying firm that has dumped $358,483 into Specter's coffers. A chief client of Blank Rome is .... wait for it .... Comcast.

Goodell has pulled no punches on Comcast, saying, "They're just finding another way which they can charge our consumers more money. We think it (the NFL Network) should be available on a broader basis." When asked if Specter's vendetta is related to Comcast, Goodell only said, "I'm not addressing that point."

As Will Bunch wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News, "If you simply took Specter at face value, and assumed his passion for grilling the NFL in his official Senate capacity is the passion of a jilted fan, that alone would be an outrageous abuse of his authority. But the truth is much worse, because Specter's interest in this issue dovetails far too closely with those of his two largest contributors, whose employees have given his campaign more than half a million dollars to keep him in office. I believe if there's any Senate hearing involving the NFL and Arlen Specter, it ought to be the Senate Ethics Committee, looking at a potential link to these donors."

Specter's office disputes this assertion, with spokesperson Kate Kelly e-mailing me, "Comcast has nothing to do with the Senator's interest in the matter. The Senator has had a long-standing interest in the NFL's antitrust exemption ... way before Comcast was even in existence." (Actually, Comcast was founded in 1963 in Tupelo,, Mississippi.)

Specter himself said to David Aldridge, "Well, what I've got to do is figure out what the percentage is of the contributions is out of the $23 million I raised. It's a fraction of one percent and got nothing to do with what I'm doing here. I think I've got a pretty strong record for integrity and not letting campaign contributions interfere with my public duty."

One thing is certain: as fans we should want to know what Belichick did or hasn't done, and whether the dominant dynasty of the last decade systematically broke the rules to climb the mountain. But there is enough of a conflict of interest on Specter to raise eyebrows. Let's get an independent commission. But let's get it out of the halls of Congress. You aren't a pigskin populist just because you deliver the pork.

14 Reader Comments | Add a comment

re: The Senator from Comcast

So the senator got upset about Spygate only when the Patriots beat the Eagles? Well, the only way he'll get interested in the Iraq war, as Jon Stewart says, is if the Philly Phanatic ends up in Abu Girrhab.

Specter

Especially after listening to what Scott Fujita said, this seems like such a non-issue. No matter how much I would love to see the Pats be taken down, its obviously not a job for the Congress to be looking into. It only figures that this ends up turning into a case about corruption. So now, even before campaigning for the national elections has started, we've got allegations of McCain and a lobbyist getting "friendly" and now Specter has joined the group too.

antitrust exemption

This is what I don't get. I thought only MLB had an antitrust exemption, dating back from the days of Kenesaw Mountain Landis?

The NFL has an antitrust exemption? All sports have these? Since when?...

A Dizzying Web of Conflicts of Interest

If Specter is so concerned about antitrust exemptions, why doesn't he take a look at Comcast intentionally disrupting downloads over their internet infrastructure? Or the fact that Comcast among other Telecom giants want to prohibit net neutrality, creating a real monopoly (or oligopoly) over the internet?

Or if, Specter and Congress are so concerned about spying, why don't they investigate Telecom companies that colluded with Bush to tap our phones?

Or if, Congress is so concerned about cheating, why haven't they thrown Bush/Cheney in prison (or at least out of office) for lying us into an unjust and brutal war?

"Integrity" and "public duty", eh?

These lies, betrayals, and hypocrisies aren't lost on ordinary Americans. Perhaps the mounting anger will lead to an entirely different type of spectre? It's pretty obvious who needs some haunting.

come on buddyyou're kidding aren't you?


How can this guy get elected? I'm looking from the outside of the USA; With everything going on there, the extremely serious problems that country has to deal with, this is what this guy comes up with? Really? No worries about wire tapping, economic free fall, attacking Iran, war in the middle east etc etc etc? good lord.

Anyway, who cares if the Patriots taped a football practise? Big deal. Why do all the coaches cover their faces when calling a play? Cause they're all are taping practises. Or maybe the other teams are just writing it down with a pencil and paper, is that it?

Yet another blast of hot air from the legislative branch. You guys deserve much better than this from your representatives.

A Specter of Truth?

Senator Specter has been making up stories for over 40 years to suit his agenda, since his infamous "single bullet" theory. Who needs him to protect the American public from professional football?

More film?

Maybe the tape was taken by Mr. Zapruder. We know just how talented Specter really is. Glad to see his focus has shifted from presidential assassination to protecting the integrity of something really important to the future of the nation.

A.Specter's interference

I sent what I thought was a carefully considered letter to Specter's office voicing my concern with his spending tax dollars on something other than issues of real concern to citizens and got back an rather insulting reply directing me to comment on topics of Specter's choosing. It simply reinforces my belief that most of our elected officials no longer care about the citizens they are supposed to represent and only care about cementing questionable relationships with the dark money behind them. Shame on them all.

Spygate

Right, Spygate is hardly Iraq. But it is not nothing, and Spectergate should not be permitted to overshadow it. After all, looked at in a certain way, what difference is there between the shredded documents of Arthur Andersen and the cremated videos of Roger Goodell? Both are products of the madness that drives the sole beneficiaries of globalization -- those in the top twenty per cent of the population -- greedily and unscrupulously to seek improper advantages over their competitors. The NFL enjoys an unwarranted antitrust exemption. It nickels and dimes its injured and destitute former players. It bars most blacks from its top tiers. And now it mangles the evidence of its deceit. If a self-righteous and hypocritical Congressional windbag yearns to wallop the NFL, I say let him.

Specter

When there are ten responses to this article, and only one (yours), is supporting this Representative, there is something wrong in your opinion...

The truth is that Specter has no business doing what he is doing, but the guy sucked from the beginning, why would he do the right thing now? Politics in the U.S. have grown embarassing, its all about campaign money now, and it trully is quite stupid and corrupt. Comcast is pissed, so they let Specter go public and further hinder the NFL and its image, in hopes of Goodell backing down in their NFL Network issue. Pathetic.

Arlen Specter

There should be an investigation, by the Senate Ethics Committee regarding Specters relationship with Comcast. But what would expect from that investigation. Senators and Congressman investigating one of it's own, what do you think would come out of that. Hey, why not do something good for the American people, like investigate why the price of gas is so high. The American people have had just about enough. As the one of the Beatle's songs of the 60's/70's so aptly puts it, "you say you want a revolution". Time to take this country back from the people we put in office who only care about how rich they can become!

Spygate, Belichick Cheating and lying

First, there are lots of fans out here that are upset the way the patriots have gotten just a slight punishment, compated to players like tank johnson, henry, wade wilson whom got suspended 5 games and fined 33% of his check, pacman, not reinstated yet.

Second, now why would you destroy tapes and notes, are you trying to hide something, which involves the nfl, now besides walsh showing the cheating etc, a former player tucker is showing how belichick had injured players on injured reserve practicing, which is illegal. I feel this is just the tip of the iceberg. Belichick is aggrogant, so i fully support Seaator Specter in revealing spygate for what is really is.

Because when kids, kids mind you, say its ok to cheat, the patriots and belichick gets a way with it, something is wrong, And when out of goodells own mouth he says coaches are to be held more accountable than players, so he fines wade wilson a coach, 33% of his check and suspends him 5 games, but he quickly sets punishment on belichick before seeing the tapes, and lightly fines belichick, why?

I am sure Senator Specter is aware of what Joey Porter said about the cheating, the players should have a voice in this cheating, and how it was used against them in games. Even further, Michael Smith a very good reporter and journalist was on sports center the other day on espn and said, he has talked to numerous players and staff and they have revealed to him about the cheating, how that when nfl security would drive up, they would call in to the practice field where they were using injured players on injured reserve and tell them to get them off of the field, now that is out and out deliberate cheating, Something needs to be done, interview former players, assistants, and give the patriots and belichick true punishment. What even bothers me even more, there was a film clip of a ref and belichick on the play of field and the ref warned belichick to get off of the field, its on nfl network clip. Anyway, belilchick steps onto the field even more and almost dares the ref to do something, again nothing was done to him, why not, there is an NFL rule, coaches are not to be on the fiield, seems like the nfl and refs are favoring patriots no matter what.

goodell talks about the iimage of the NFL but when you have a head coach like belichick that was dating a married woman and giving her gifts, a top ranked qb like brady that got a model pregnant, and now is daring another woman, and nothing said about it, thats image toward the nfl too and its like your allowing cheating, cheating on the field, and cheating like belichick dating a married woman, causing a divorce probably, a qb getting a woman pregnant and now seeing another woman, thats some image for the NFL.

Interesting text.

thats it, guy

thanks much

i am gonna show this to my friend, dude

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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