Sports Outside the Beltway

Pats Lose First-Round Pick, Belichick Fined $500K

The NFL has smacked Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots hard for cheating.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined the NFL maximum of $500,000 Thursday and the Patriots were ordered to pay $250,000 for spying on an opponent’s defensive signals. Commissioner Roger Goodell also ordered the team to give up next year’s first-round draft choice if it reaches the playoffs and second- and third-round picks if it doesn’t.

“This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field,” Goodell said in a letter to the Patriots.

The videotaping came to light after a camera was confiscated from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella while he was on the New York Jets’ sideline during New England’s 38-14 win last Sunday at Giants Stadium. Goodell will not change the outcome of the game.

Goodell said he had considered suspending Belichick but didn’t “largely because I believe that the discipline I am imposing of a maximum fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft choice, or multiple draft choices, is in fact more significant and long-lasting, and therefore more effective, than a suspension.”

No doubt about that. This penalty is very harsh but, in my view, fair.

Penalties that change history — expunging wins from the record, forfeiting championship banners, and the like — are silly. Fans watched the games and suffered through the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. Going back and pretending that the outcomes were different for historical purposes hurt the fans, not the teams.

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