Brady will serve a four-game suspension to start this season because the NFL determined he was “more likely than not” involved in a scheme to deflate footballs in the 2014 AFC Championship Game. The league’s final report, of course, carried not a shred of direct and verified evidence that Brady was involved — or even that the balls themselves were artificially deflated. It focused heavily on Brady’s refusal to provide his mobile phone, even though he said he provided all the information the league requested from it.
Hargrove, meanwhile, essentially lost his career in 2012 when the NFL pinned much of its Bountygate investigation on him telling his New Orleans Saints teammates to “pay me my money” after a hit on then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. Hargrove adamantly denied saying it, and the NFL concluded he was not being truthful in his deposition. Later, an NFL Films video confirmed Hargrove’s account. The NFL quietly acknowledged it.
The point, of course, is that Peppers, Matthews, Neal and Harrison have been smart in approaching the latest investigation with extreme caution. One wrong move, or one perceived to be uncooperative by the league, and they’ll forever be stained by NFL discipline.
The NFL already has a PEDs policy, to which all four players have been subject. The policy’s testing procedure should be the source of any allegation. Unless one or more of them have tested positive, they are innocent under the terms of the agreed NFL-NFLPA policy. The policy does allow for discipline if violations are found through “sufficient credible documented evidence,” but unless the NFL has uncovered something more than Al-Jazeera did from a now-discredited source, it’s difficult to imagine what that might be.
In this case, the NFL is asking the players to step outside the policy and answer to the allegation anyway. Ask Brady and Hargrove, both of whom denied their respective accusations from the start, how that worked out for them.
In truth, this really isn’t about PEDs. Again, the NFL has a policy for that. This is another maneuver in the now-ubiquitous power struggle between the league and its players. The NFL is emboldened by its legal victory over Brady and is using the same broad authority — as written in Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement — to compel participation in an otherwise out-of-policy investigation.
If you celebrated Brady’s discipline, surely you realized that your team could be next. You did realize that, right?
At the moment, it’s difficult to imagine the limits of the league’s power. Even in a union environment, with a legal CBA in place, we might finally have reached the moment when players are subject to discipline whenever they don’t do what the NFL asks of them. If you thought the relationship between the two sides was icy and too litigious already, wait until you see what’s next.
The NFL is begging the NFLPA to fight back over the Al Jazeera case.
The NFL said if Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Green Bay Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews and free-agent defensive lineman Mike Neal — the four active players publicly accused in an Al Jazeera America report last year for performance-enhancing drug use — don’t interview with the league by August 25, the NFL will suspend them indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the league. That’s according to multiple reports, including Pro Football Talk, which published the NFL’s letter to the union outlining the many times they have been stonewalled on their interview requests.
Now it gets interesting.
The NFLPA seems to have long ago understood this is how the situation would play out, from the moment it sent the NFL an affidavit on Harrison’s behalf, in which Harrison said he has never taken any PEDs and his affidavit would be his only statement to the NFL on the matter. The other players also sent affidavits, via the NFLPA. The NFL rejected them.
The implied message with that seemed to be the players would not let NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have his way in this case. This wouldn’t be like the Tom Brady/deflate-gate fiasco. Goodell has to feel emboldened by the court rulings in his favor in the Brady and Adrian Peterson cases. The union has to feel like it needs something to rally around if it ever wants to battle back over the broad powers Goodell has under Article 46 of the collective-bargaining agreement.