HOUSTON – In wake of the Tom Brady jersey theft and recovery – authentication pending on the latter – the question the NFL faces now is how to address a security breach that may have stretched over at least three consecutive Super Bowls. Sources from two other recent Super Bowl teams told Yahoo Sports they are also conducting reviews to see whether anything may have been stolen following their wins, as well.
League spokesman Brian McCarthy told Yahoo Sports the NFL has not been notified by any other teams beyond the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, the past two league Super Bowl champions, that items may have been stolen.
In what has turned out to be a lapse in league security, an NFL source confirmed an international media member gained access to the Patriots’ private locker room period and is now the sole suspect in the February theft of Brady’s game jersey from Super Bowl LI in Houston.
The story was first reported by Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer on Monday.
McCarthy said the NFL has annual security evaluations and that the latest revelations will be taken into account. Pending the outcome of the investigation, McCarthy said the NFL currently has no plans to ban an offending media outlet from future Super Bowls or make sweeping security changes.
“We haven’t had those discussions yet, but we’re not into generally barring media outlets,” McCarthy said. “… We always review [security] protocols. We did that last year. We’ll do it again this year. That’s not really news. We want to make sure something like this never happens again. It was one individual [in all of the incidents]. We never want to see something like this happen. We will review it.”
The source confirmed the international media member is the suspect in multiple Super Bowl-related thefts including two Brady jerseys. While the media member in question has not been officially identified by authorities, the source told Yahoo Sports that a credential for Mexican tabloid La Prensa is part of the probe. The newspaper also issued a release Monday stating that La Prensa director Mauricio Ortega resigned last week and is a person of interest in the investigation.
Working with Mexican authorities, the FBI recovered what it believes are two Super Bowl jerseys belonging to Brady – one from last month’s Super Bowl LI win against the Atlanta Falcons and another from the Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seattle Seahawks. A source confirmed to Yahoo Sports that the FBI also recovered and has examined a helmet appearing to belong to Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, the MVP of Super Bowl 50. NFL security and the Broncos are reviewing whether that helmet matches one that went missing following the Broncos’ win against the Carolina Panthers.
A league source declined to say whether the memorabilia thief would be prosecuted, stating that the investigation hadn’t reached that phase yet. It’s believed the items would first need to be authenticated for authorities to press charges in the theft.
The NFL confirmed the suspect was indeed a properly credentialed media member. The league also confirmed that the primary failure appeared to occur when the individual was allowed access into the Patriots’ locker room during a private period. According to individuals who are part of the league’s security process, the entry point into the Super Bowl locker room is effectively where the security ends for vetting media members.
As one source said Monday, “Once you’re inside the [locker room] during the private team time, the assumption is that you’re supposed to be there, or you are at least cleared to be in there, so nobody is really paying attention to anyone specifically at that point. That’s when the team is celebrating and it’s a limited group of people. … When the media comes in, there is more attention paid [by security, team officials or league officials] to what is going on. But before the media comes in, everyone is celebrating and it’s just assumed that everyone knows everyone. It’s designed to be a ‘safe space.’ That changes when the doors open [to the media].”
One source who was in the locker room during the private period when the media member was suspected to have taken Brady’s jersey called the environment, “Chaotic. Euphoric.” The source added that the problem was more a matter of the initial breach – that the reporter gained access at a time when it would have been easier to steal items without being noticed.
“When the media [officially] entered, people were watching Tom’s area and would have seen someone go into his locker and take his jersey out of his bag,” the source said. “Someone got in by appearing to be with the team and stole it when people were celebrating and assuming they didn’t have to be watching their things.”
A source familiar with the investigation confirmed to Yahoo Sports some of the details first reported by Glazer. Notably that authorities used portions of different video feeds near a locker room entrance to identify a media member who improperly entered the locker room among a group of players, personnel and staff just behind head coach Bill Belichick.
The source said authorities focused on the media member after cameras captured him leaving the locker room with a plastic bag under his arm following the private locker room period. Fox Sports broadcast video matched that description, showing a media member entering the private locker room period with his credential shielded by a necktie at 10:04 p.m. CT. The same video feed then showed the man leaving the locker room with a black plastic bag under an arm at 10:18 p.m.
Multiple sources previously told Yahoo Sports the locker room was opened to media at roughly 10:17 p.m. and that authorities believed Brady’s jersey was stolen from his bag prior to the period when media were approved to enter the locker room.