New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick insists he had no knowledge of a team employee filming the Cincinnati Bengals' sideline during Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.
The Patriots put out a statement regarding the incident Monday night, saying their content team was producing a behind-the-scenes feature on an advanced scout who was working in the press box during the game. The NFL is investigating. The Patriots (10-3) will face the Bengals (1-12) on Sunday in Cincinnati.
According to the statement, the three-person video crew, which included independent contractors, inappropriately filmed the field from the press box, but there "was no intention of using the footage for any other purpose" than to provide an illustration of an advanced scout at work on the road. The Athletic's Paul Dehner Jr. reported that sources who viewed the film say the camera was focused on the Bengals' sideline for a full eight minutes, capturing players coming on and off the field and clearly showing coaches' signals.
Belichick initially referred back to that statement when asked for comment on the incident during a teleconference with local media Tuesday, but when pressed further, he said he didn’t have anything to do with it.
“I don’t have anything at all to do with this whatsoever,” Belichick said. “Whatever is going on between the people that are involved in it and the league and all that, it’s not a football issue in any way, shape or form. I had no involvement. I don’t know anything about this.”
On his conference call with media in the Cincinnati area, #Patriots coach Bill Belichick denies any knowledge of the videotaping incident. #Bengals— Laurel Pfahler (@LaurelPfahler) December 10, 2019
The team has been producing “Do Your Job” episodes featuring various departments within the organization over the past year, and seven of them have been archived on Patriots.com. However, Belichick said he was unaware that one was being done on a scout.
According to the team’s statement, the football staff was aware but had no involvement.
Statement from the New England Patriots. pic.twitter.com/rhXdwVvnr8— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 10, 2019
“We understand and acknowledge that our video crew, which included independent contractors who shot the video, unknowingly violated a league policy by filming the field and sideline from the press box,” the statement said. “When questioned, the crew immediately turned over all footage to the league and cooperated fully.
“The production crew is independent of our football operation. While aware that one of the scouts was being profiled for a ‘Do Your Job’ episode, our football staff had no other involvement whatsoever in the planning, filming or creative decisions made during the production of these features.
“We accept full responsibility for the actions of our production crew at the Browns-Bengals game.”
This is not the first time the Patriots have been investigated for illegally filming an opponent. New England was disciplined by the league for videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive coaches’ signals from an unauthorized location during a game in 2007, which became known as “Spygate.” The Patriots were fined $250,000, Belichick received a fined of $500,000 (the maximum allowed by the league and the largest fine ever imposed on a coach) and the organization lost its 2008 first-round draft pick.
ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” later reported in detail a picture of systematic cheating that went beyond one game with the Jets and doesn’t sound too far off the current situation.
"Soon, advanced scouts would be sent to the games of upcoming Patriots' opponents to film the play signals," a BusinessInsider.com article stated in 2015, detailing the ESPN report. "The scouts would go undercover as media members, with media credentials listed under 'Patriots TV' or 'Kraft Productions' and were prepared with excuses of what to say they were filming if security asked."
When asked Tuesday what the Patriots learned from the 2007 incident, Belichick said it hasn’t fundamentally changed anything within the organization.
“We’ve always tried to do everything the right way,” he said. “Look, we’re competitive, and we’ll try to be competitive in every area, but we don’t knowingly, intentionally want to do anything that crosses the line, but since that’s happened, I would say we’ve tried to keep a good distance behind the line and not maybe take it as far as we might have in the past, but it’s never really fundamentally changed there.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he was aware the NFL was investigating an incident from the game Sunday but declined comment during his Monday press conference. The Bengals were off Tuesday and there was no media availability.
According to the Patriots’ statement, the Browns had granted access for the video crew, but the team’s “failure to inform the Bengals and the League was an unintended oversight.” Belichick declined to say whether he had reached out to the Bengals to apologize for any confusion.
“I think I’ll keep that between us and the Bengals,” he said.
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