The last couple weeks have been spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. The NFL made it clear that they would demand to interview Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, James Harrison, and Mike Neal regarding their being alleged as PED users in the same Al-Jazeera documentary that accused Peyton Manning of taking HGH. They had not yet done so, but if you follow the league closely you knew it was a matter of when and not if. USA Today’s Tom Pelissero reports:
Thus far, the NFLPA has been instructing the players not to cooperate with investigators, arguing that it would set poor precedent to submit to interviews on the basis of a report from a news organization that is now defunct in America. Charles Sly, the primary source for the story, has recanted his allegations.
Peyton Manning, it should be noted, cooperated with the investigation. From the outset of the Al-Jazeera story, he acknowledged, through spokesman Ari Fleischer, that his wife was a patient of the Guyer Institute and received unspecified packages from them. Disputed in the matter was whether the packages were intended for his usage. After Manning spoke with NFL investigators, the league swiftly concluded that there was nothing to see here.
Manning had the luxury of being retired, and therefore not a member of the players union, nor subject to any potential locker room backlash for violating its wishes.
Matthews, Peppers, Harrison, and Neal are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Recent court decisions with Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson have made it clear that Roger Goodell has the power to enact whatever punishment on players he chooses. In the case of Brady, this was done with evidence that was questionable at best. If they do not cooperate with the investigation, the suspension they will receive for their silence would be in addition to any potential punishment for PED usage.
The union would be wise to back off on this fight, and publicly acknowledge that the players have no choice but to submit to an interview. The time for this fight is not now, but in the next round of collective bargaining negotiations. The CBA expires in between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, which seems like an eternity away but is closer than we realize right now. If the NFL players do not want to be subject to Roger Goodell’s unconditional disciplining powers, they will need to make that a focal point in negotiations.
The only way to do that might be to actually follow through with missing games. There is an idea that the owners will always be able to afford to wait out the players in these situations, but with TV and sponsorship deals being what they are, perhaps owners won’t want to take a hard line on this issue when it has caused so much embarrassment in situations like Bountygate and Deflategate.
In any event, time will tell how strongly the rank-and-file players feel about this clause in the CBA, and whether they will collectively fight against it.