The New England Patriots Spygate has not been in the news for a while, but it’s definitely fresh in the memories of NFL football fans. So, when the story hit that members of the Cincinnati Bengals were accusing the Pats of recording their sideline during a game, the headline blew up all across sports media and fandom.
The official story is that members of an independent documentary company working in conjunction with but not directly for the Patriots organization inadvertently filmed the Bengals sideline; though, they say it had no impact on the game. While the framing of the story sounds reasonable or, at least, feasible, some aren’t buying it, and Spygate is a big part of the reason.
There’s a large contingent of NFL fans and journalists who do not believe the Patriots are as honest and above-board as they claim to be. The franchise wins, and they win a lot… and they manage to do so with players who don’t make it on other teams the Pats end up beating. Sure, they have an all-time quarterback, but some fans are eager to believe the Pats are dirty. So, new speculation started, and began picking up steam.
In response, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he and his coaching staff had nothing to do with the video. “I personally have never viewed any video footage at all, anything that those production people have done, other than what’s shown on public television or something like that…”
The Patriots organization also sent out a preventative message out on Twitter, claiming that a team filming a web series “inappropriately filmed the field from the press box…” and that the film crew involved “immediately” turned over all film, and that they are “fully cooperating” with the league’s investigation.
The NFL didn’t comment, but sources told the media the league was investigating. That open-ended word means the Patriots could well be hearing about this incident — regardless of the facts involved — all the way into the playoffs. It will certainly come up over the next couple of weeks, as the Pats are fighting to win the number one seed in the AFC.
The PR lesson here is that reputation carries forward. It’s something that we must always keep front of mind, always be working on, because the past can come back at the worst possible time. For example, instead of talking about the Patriots’ great record and the play of the defense, pundits and fans are talking about Brady’s suspension and the massive fine levied against the team… things that happened many, many years ago. Suddenly, the defending Super Bowl champions are stuck defending themselves from allegations given gravitas by something that happened more than a decade ago.