The simmering controversy between the NFL and the NFL Players Association regarding a December report from Al Jazeera implicating multiple players finally has hit full boil.
After months of delays resulting from an apparent inability of the two sides to agree as to the necessity and scope of an investigation following a report that implicated Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, free-agent defensive lineman Mike Neal, Steelers linebacker James Harrison, and former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, the two sides have gone public with their dispute.
Said the NFLPA on Monday: “The NFL has chosen to initiate an investigation of these players based upon now-recanted statements that appeared in an Al Jazeera report. The NFLPA requested from the NFL any additional evidence supporting an investigation of the players; the NFL did not provide any such evidence, nor did they inform the NFLPA or the players that any such evidence exists. Instead, the NFL has decided to publicly pressure the players into submission. We will continue to advise our players about their rights and hold the NFL accountable.”
The NFL, which informed the non-retired players that they’ll be interviewed at the outset of training camp, has since responded.
“The NFLPA and NFL are obligated and have a shared responsibility to look into allegations that could impact the integrity of competition on the field and the health of our players,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We have been obtaining and reviewing numerous records, conducting multiple interviews and working with other entities. We have made no conclusions but the report merits a review, including interviews with the players named.”
The NFLPA wasn’t impressed by the explanation.
“The only thing we are saying to the league is, ‘Show us what credible evidence you have, so that we can understand what the basis of your investigation is,'” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told Kaboly. “Because if the basis of your investigation is simply four sentences of dialogue exchanged in this media report from a guy who took back everything he said in a YouTube video, that’s not enough. . . . It’s not like there is some positive test or missed test out there. Literally, this is only about the media report from December. . . . So we have asked them to clarify what their [additional] evidence is, and they have so far told us nothing about that.”
The case raises an important question regarding the quality and nature of allegations that will trigger an investigation into potential PED violations unrelated to a positive test. It’s one thing for a player to be implicated in, for example, a criminal investigation of a doping lab. It’s another for allegations not confirmed or corroborated to result in a full-blown probe.
There’s a line that falls somewhere between justification for an investigation and a P.R.-driven fishing expedition. It’s unclear where that line is, but this specific situation could help define it in future cases.
Atallah will join Tuesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio to discuss the issue in further detail. An invitation also has been extended to the league.