The plain language of the NFL’s PED policy indicates that, before a player ever talks to the league or otherwise provides information regarding a potential violation arising from anything other than a positive test, the league must have “credible documented evidence” that a violation happened. Per a source with knowledge of the union’s thinking on the issue, the NFL Players Association agrees with that assessment and procedure.
Put as simply as possible, if the league believes that it has “credible documented evidence” of a violation arising from something other than a positive PED test, the league should impose discipline, which then triggers the obligation of the players to provide information via the appeal process.
Although NFLPA spokesman George Atallah didn’t put it that bluntly during a Tuesday appearance on PFT Live, that was the clear gist of his remarks.
“The interpretation has been there for many, many years that we need, from our perspective, we need some sort of credible evidence beyond just eight lines in a dialogue where the main source recanted everything he said in order to trigger a full-blown investigation the way the league has positioned it,” Atallah said. “So I think from our point of view, we are where we are because in the report from December they had one source, that one source recanted everything. You know, for a guy like James Harrison, I mean we pulled all of the documentary. Our attorneys watched the whole thing over and over again to see what exactly was alleged during that report and all we came up with for a guy like James was literally eight lines of a dialogue in a piece where Charlie Sly, the source, recanted all of his statements. So we certainly don’t think that that’s enough to merit an investigation. You and I both know that people say a bunch of crazy things on media and social media and if were in a world where the league wanted to investigate every time somebody tweeted something about a player they’d have a whole heck of a lot of staff they’d need to hire to do that.”
Thus, even though the NFL has said that the interviews of the players implicated in the Al Jazeera report will happen at the opening of training camp, the NFLPA does not yet believe the time has come for the players to speak.
“We’re at the point now where the process, we believe, dictates that we need specific credible evidence to make a determination and recommendation for how the players are going to move forward,” Atallah said. “The league has not provided that evidence yet beyond, again, the initial report that was there. They have said to us that the MLB is looking into it and USADA is looking into it. That frankly so far is not enough.”
The league apparently thinks it is enough, to the point where the NFL apparently will take action against players who fail to submit to an interview.
“If you take the league at their word from the letter that they leaked on Friday, they are threatening to impose some sort of discipline if the players don’t cooperate so I would assume that that would trigger some sort of mechanism by which an arbitrator would have to resolve this,” Atallah said. “Our position [is] pretty clear. They have not provided anything beyond the report to substantiate doing a full-blown investigation and the dance goes on.”
It could be, as suggested in our Tuesday item, that the league doesn’t want to impose discipline based simply on the Al Jazeera report, and that the NFL hopes the players will say something during interviews that will in some way conflict with whatever objective evidence the NFL has gathered, justifying the finding of a violation. The NFLPA strongly objects to this approach, if that’s what the NFL is doing.
“That’s not a fair due process and I think that is a concern that has been highlighted in the way that they have done other investigations in the past,” Atallah said. “If this was a league office that had a shred of integrity left then there would not be this issue at the moment and we would have figured out a way already to resolve this. If we had a group of players and a group of fans and media who had a shred of confidence in the way that they proceed with these issues we would not be having this discussion about whether or not they have the right to investigate or not because we would have resolved this thing already. They’re not in the business of resolving issues quietly, amicably, and in a way that’s best for business. They just are interested in imposing their will any which way they want, and we’re always going to stand up for our players rights.”
If that means the players will refuse to be interviewed, this one could get a lot more interesting once training camps open.