GSA. Secret Service. New Orleans Saints. April is the month for scandals.
As if the NFL needs another headache, ESPN’s Outside The Lines reports that Saints GM Mickey Loomis “had an electronic device in his Superdome suite that had been secretly re-wired to enable him to eavesdrop on visiting coaching staffs for nearly three NFL seasons….” ESPN is the only media giant to pick up the story. NFL.com is silent on the topic, but league spokesman Greg Aiello says the NFL is not aware of the allegation.
Outside The Lines’ unnamed source says that Loomis had the listening device installed in 2002, shortly after he was named general manager. It remained in place until 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ravished New Orleans and the Superdome.
Saints spokesman Greg Bensel categorically denied the allegation. “This is 1,000 percent inaccurate,” he said for the ESPN story.
Government agencies need a court order to engage in the electronic eavesdropping. When regular people do it, they run afoul of federal and state laws. ESPN’s story says the practice ended after 2005. The Statute of Limitations may allow the Saints to escape prosecution, but not the wrath of Goodell.
Outside the Lines did not name its source. That’s important to remember, but the accusation is so serious that the NFL is compelled to investigate.
The story could not have come at a worse time for New Orleans. Commissioner Goodell will lower the boom this week on Saints players involved in the Bountygate scandal. Head coach Sean Payton and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have been sanctioned, Williams indefinitely. Loomis and interim head coach Joe Vitt face suspensions for eight and six games respectively.
Filmmaker Sean Pamphilon released an audio of Williams urging Saints defenders to “touch the head” of 49ers player Kevin Williams who suffered a concussion a few weeks earlier. The Niners beat the Saints in a home 36-32 upset of the Saints during the playoffs after last season.
The NFL penalized the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys for defying verbal guidelines for the treatment of player contracts during the 2011 lockout.
The NFL fined the New England Patriots a first round Draft pick and $250,000 for the Videogate scandal in 2007. Head Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 for the incident after league officials confiscated Patriots’ video equipment after the team routed the New York Jets 38-14.
No one was ever sure that Belichick used the video during games. The league reminded all teams that that the use of video equipment on opposing teams was strictly prohibited because of the potential impact on competition. The Saints stopped using of the audio equipment before Videogate. The New England precedent would still weigh heavily against New Orleans — if proven true.
How will Loomis keep his job after this weekend’s NFL Draft? How close to the top does this get. Will it touch team owner Tom Benson, who supposedly ordered Loomis to end bounties on players, only to see it continue?
Benson has more on his plate. He suspended his granddaughter and heir-apparent Rita Benson LeBlanc from management of the team, according to a story on NFL.com. Benson took the step after reaching a “breaking point” late last season when he concluded that LeBlanc was not taking the duties of running the organization seriously enough. The Saints have not issued a formal statement, but management control is an issue with this franchise.
The Saints still have the task of re-signing its very disgruntled quarterback, Drew Brees.
HBO’s Hard Knocks is looking for a team to film during training camp. The Saints are a suddenly attractive target. They may have had enough electronic recording for this year. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons suddenly have the look of a division champion.