Court considers fan suit over Jets-Pats Spygate
The New England Patriots could find themselves defending a
lawsuit by NFL fans miffed about their secret videotaping of
signals from New York Jets coaches.
The NFL bans such videotaping and issued $750,000 in fines
against the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick after they were
caught taping signals at the Jets’ 2007 home opener in Giants
Lawyer Carl Mayer, a Jets season ticket holder, argued in a U.S.
appeals court Wednesday that fans spent vast sums of money to see
games that were essentially rigged. His suit, earlier dismissed by
a lower court, seeks $185 million in damages for Jets fans
Mayer, who asked the appeals court to revive the suit, said he
hopes to learn the extent of the Patriots’ taping, dubbed Spygate,
“The game will become more and more corrupt if there is no
remedy,” said Mayer, of Princeton, N.J. “The NFL will degenerate
into the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).”
NFL lawyers insist the Patriots violated only league rules – not
any civil or criminal laws. They fear that disappointed fans will
sue over myriad game day complaints if the case is upheld.
“It will become unmanageable,” lawyer Shepard Goldfein argued
to the three-judge panel, which included a Pittsburgh Steelers
season ticket holder and a judge who confessed to knowing little
about NFL lingo.
U.S. District Judge Garrett Brown Jr. tossed Mayer’s suit last
year, concluding that tickets entitle fans to see nothing more than
the game that unfolds.
However, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals judges peppered
lawyers about the issues for more than an hour Wednesday. Their
ruling could hinge on whether they see the purchase of a Jets
ticket as a contract between fans and the league and whether
consumer protection laws apply.
The NFL argued that a ticket carries only the right to sit in a
certain seat and see a game.
Belichick, the league lawyers said, defended the videotaping to
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell by saying he misunderstood the
rules. Mayer challenged that assertion, alleging the Patriots
turned off the light on the videocamera and used other sleuth
tactics to avoid detection at the game, which they won 38-14.
Senior Judge Robert Cowen seemed perhaps most perturbed about
the videotaping and noted Goodell handed down “a whopper” of a
“Anyone who’s competed knows there’s a big difference in
knowing what’s coming across the plate,” said Cowen, using a
baseball analogy. “It’s a horrendous violation. No question about
The suit alleges that the Patriots taped the Jets in their
twice-yearly contests for seven years, and it seeks treble damages
for Jets fans based on a rough average of $100 a ticket.
Goldfein, in questioning, said rabid NFL fans likely would buy
tickets even if they knew the Patriots were stealing signals.
Other types of intelligence gathering are allowed in the NFL,
from using binoculars to look for signals to debriefing new players
and coaches about their last team’s playbooks, co-counsel Daniel
“Where the NFL decided to draw the line was at videotaping the
sideline,” Goldberg said, adding the rules are subject to change
The judges did not indicate when they would rule.
Judge Gene E.K. Pratter asked how the Patriots had fared during
the seasons in question. The Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2002,
2004 and 2005 and reached the title game in 2008, while the Jets
endured several seasons of mediocrity before making a surprising
run to the AFC championship game last season.
“Prior to that (the start of the videotaping), their record was
as woeful as the Jets,” Mayer replied. “After that, they were the
best team in football.”
“For a while,” quipped Judge D. Michael Fisher, of Pittsburgh,
whose Steelers added to their storied franchise history with
championships in 2006 and 2009.