The New England Patriots are not very good at winning football games these days, but they are very good at stonewalling.
That was the conclusion of special counsel Philip Heymann in his report to commissioner Paul Tagliabue on the locker room incident involving Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson. It resulted in fines of Patriots management and three players -- Zeke Mowatt, Mike Timpson and Robert Perryman, who's now with the Dallas Cowboys.
In his report, Heymann said that coach Rod Rust was very cooperative, but the coach doubted that "the players would be frank."
Heymann said: "Coach Rust was right. A sizeable number of players were unwilling to reveal more than a carefully selected part of what the investigators believe they must have known. The risks of revelations of personal involvement or of being labeled a 'snitch' may have been far greater than any benefits these players could foresee from full cooperation, even with the encouragment of Coach Rust."
All this goes a long way to explain why the Patriots are 1-10.
It's a little tough for the players to concentrate on football when the players are stonewalling a controversial issue and are obviously concerned about whether their teammates are going to stick together.
Now that the investigation is over and the ruling is in, the question is what do the Patriots do next? Are they finally going to let the issue drop so they can start concentrating on football?
Robert Fraley, Mowatt's attorney, said it's not over yet last week. He threatened legal action.
"We are going to look at every reasonable basis to proceed legally in this case," Fraley said. He contends Mowatt passed a lie detector test.
Fraley also has good connections in the league. He represents such coaches as Bill Parcells of the New York Giants and Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins.
If Fraley goes to court, he'll have to overcome Heymann's testimoney that Mowatt's account "is not credible" -- a lawyer's way of saying Mowatt lied.
Since Mowatt was fined only $12,500 (Timpson and Perryman were fined $5,000), it would seem to be easier to pay the fine than fight a court battle against long odds.
Which brings up the question of why the fines were so small since the counsel said he "believes" Olson's account and said Mowatt wasn't credible. Remember, Sam Wyche, the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, was fined almost $28,000 simply for barring a woman from a locker room.
As quarterback Boomer Esiason said: "It was kind of like Sam is being charged with murder when all he's committed is a misdemeanor. And they're being charged with a misdemeanor when they've committed a felony," he said.
The league points out Wyche is a repeat offender because he's violated locker room policies in the past.
The more logical explanation is that Tagliabue is still wearing his lawyer's hat. A good lawyer tries to keep his client out of court. Tagliabue knew Wyche wasn't going to take him to court. He knew Fraley was a threat to do that.
His fines -- combined with the release of the report that vindicated Olson although it said there were some "inconsistencies" in her story -- were large enough to satisfy the reporter and her paper. Tagliabue's hoping they're small enough to keep Fraley from going to court.
The next move is Fraley's.
Victor Kiam, the owner of the Patriots, whose club was fined $50,000 for mishandling the incident, has yet to comment.
It remains to be seen whether Kiam plans any major shakeup or whether he's going to keep the team or sell it.
General manager Patrick Sullivan, who's been under fire for his role in the incident, said Kiam has given him no indication he's planning major moves and said, "He wants to get on with the season, move forward."
If there was any positive development out of all this, it was that Tagliabue announced that $25,000 of the $50,000 the Patriots were fined will be used to prepare materials for all NFL personnel on "responsible dealings with the media."
The NFL has paid little attention in recent years to educating players about the role of the media. Forget the harassment problem. It's difficult to simply get many players to even do interviews.
For example, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana was a no-show in the locker room in the middle of last week during the interview periods.
Maybe the NFL should enlist the services of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He was at Redskin Park Friday and talked to the players about their responsibility as role models and the importance of community service and dealing with the media.
In this era of one-newspaper towns, newspaper wars are mostly a thing of the past. But they are still alive and well in Boston, where one aspect of the Olson story that didn't get much national attention was how much of a war it started between the Herald and the Boston Globe.
The attacks were quite personal, too. In September, Joe Fitzgerald of the Herald wrote of Mike Madden of the Globe, "The poor bum's memory has to be receding faster than his hairline."