Belichick ’71 Pays $500k Fine For Sideline Taping

Patriots Head Coach and Phillips Academy alumnus Bill Belichick ’71 must pay a $500,000 fine after the Patriots violated National Football League rules on sideline taping. During the Patriots’ 38–14 win over the New York Jets two weeks ago, NFL officials confiscated a video camera from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrellaon while he stood on the Jets sideline. NFL officials analyzed the camera’s material and discovered that Estrellaon had used the camera to videotape the Jets’ defensive signals, a direct infringement of NFL rules. Belichick admitted that he had misinterpreted NFL rules and was ultimately responsible for the taping incident. In response to the violation, NFL commissioner Robert Goodell fined Belichick the maximum NFL fine and the largest ever charged against a head coach. The fine represents 12 percent of Belichick’s estimated $4.2 million salary. The league must also determine if the Patriots used illegal radio frequencies. The Jets’ Head Coach, Eric Mangini, requested that the NFL review the Patriots’ equipment after the two teams played each other. The recent fine against Belichick follows a trend of escalating the zero-tolerance policy regarding misconduct and rule violations by league players and coaches. In an attempt to clean up the league’s image, Goodell exercised the maximum available punishments for several major league violations. NFL players Adam “Pacman” Jones of the Tennessee Titans and Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons were both suspended indefinitely after facing criminal charges. Since graduating, Belichick continues to be an avid supporter of Phillips Academy. Belichick made frequent trips to the school when his daughter, Amanda Belichick ’03, attended Andover. Now, Belichick visits the campus once a year to speak with prospective Andover students during spring revisit days. Some members of the Andover community have defended one-time student and hometown coach Belichick. Matt Cranney ’08 said, “I think the whole taping situation has been blown out of proportions. I think the action of stealing another team’s signals has been used by most NFL teams. I think it’s not a big deal, and it doesn’t compare to performance drugs. If that’s the opinion of the league, the punishment is applicable, but it should not subtract from the Patriots’ prior success.” Coach Moe said “I am a big fan of Bill Belichick.” Not all members of the community have supported Belichick and his actions. Jeff Abboud ’08 said, “It’s just disappointing how little the Patriots respect the sport. You would think a team like the Patriots could rely on its talent to win.” Last Wednesday, Belichick issued a statement to address his involvement in the issue. Belichick stated, “I accept full responsibility for the actions that led to tonight’s ruling… I also apologize to Patriots fans and would like to thank them for their support during the past few days and throughout my career.” Goodell also fined the Patriots organization an additional $250,000 and ordered the team to give up either a first-round draft pick or second and third-round picks if the team does not qualify for the playoffs. Goodell said, “This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field.” This punishment marked the first time a first-round draft pick is docked due to a team infraction. Although Goodell mentioned in an official statement that the investigation did not trace any of the infractions back to the Patriot’s owner, Bob Craft, Goodell still chose to punish the organization as a whole. Goodell said, “Coach Belichick not only serves as the head coach but also has substantial control over all aspects of New England’s football operations. His actions and decisions are properly attributed to the club.” This is not the first time the Patriots have been convicted of misusing a recording device. Last November, the Green Bay Packers officials caught Estrellaon on their sidelines shooting unofficial video, though the Packers filed no official punishment. Estreallaon was only forced to stop filming and to leave the Packer’s sideline. According to NFL rules, “No video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches’ booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game.” The only videotaping permitted for coaching purposes must be done from completely enclosed locations away from the playing surface. NFL executive Ray Anderson sent a memo reminding all NFL coaches’ General Managers of the rule. The memo stated, “Videotaping of any type, including, but not limited to, taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.” Belichick added in his statement, “Part of my job as head coach is to ensure that our football operations are conducted in compliance of the league rules and all accepted interpretations of them. My interpretation of a rule in the Constitution and Bylaws was incorrect.” Some believe the NFL organization may have harshly punished the Patriots in order to make an example for other teams. Regardless of whether Belichick intended to break NFL rules, the league clearly established its position on how it will deal with team infractions.