Many (including unofficial league-office executive Stephen A. Smith) have argued that the players implicated by the Al Jazeera documentary as violators of the PED policy should submit to the NFL’s line-in-the-sand demand for an interrogation. If, after all, the players have nothing to hide, why shouldn’t they talk?
Here’s why: Because the players don’t know whether the NFL has a predetermined outcome that the league is looking to support via the selective interpretation of evidence, to the point of twisting it and/or warping it and/or flat-out mischaracterizing what they say.
Before anyone suggests that I remove the tin-foil hat, that tin-foil hat came in handy during the Saints bounty scandal, when the NFL tried to put words in Anthony Hargrove’s mouth in order to bolster the appearance that Hargrove was anxious to recover payment for battering Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC title game. That tin-foil hat also came in handy when dissecting the backward-ass junk science of #DeflateGate, along with comparing Tom Brady’s sworn testimony during his internal appeal to the manner in which Brady’s words were distorted in the appeal ruling from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Football players aren’t lawyers or linguists, skilled in properly maneuvering and manipulating words in order to avoid giving the league through inadvertence or lack of precision a chunk of syllables that can be used to support a Constanza-esque “a-ha!” and a finding of guilt that the league office is hoping to impose. So when the players tell the truth with words that may be bent into an alternative version of the truth, that’s a very good reason to not say anything.
Then there’s the possibility that they’ll be asked a laundry list of questions about any and all communications with Charles Sly, the former Guyer Institute employee/intern/whatever whose claims already have been deemed to be not credible as to retired quarterback Peyton Manning but somehow retain potential credibility as to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, Steelers linebacker James Harrison, and free-agent defensive lineman Mike Neal. If/when the players deny knowing, talking to, texting, or emailing Sly, next will quite possibly come the request for (drum roll, please) their cellphones, so that the absence of any communications with Sly can be confirmed.
Apart from the privacy concerns that prompted Tom Brady to balk at surrendering his phone, any forgotten or overlooked communication with Sly becomes a potential smoking gun, with the league assuming that the claim of no knowledge of or contact with Sly proves that the claims of PED use are true.
It’s entirely possible that the league is entering this process with a presumption of innocence and a desire to find evidence that will support the exoneration of the players. But it’s also entirely possible, based on past NFL investigations, that league is presuming guilt and looking for any shred of evidence to support a predetermined outcome of a PED violation. Knowing the recent history of the league office’s investigative tactics and not knowing whether the league has an agenda either to prove or disprove the allegations, Matthews, Peppers, Harrison, and Neal should tread lightly — and they should seriously consider pursuing a threshold ruling that there is no obligation for any players to give evidence that may be used against them in conjunction with a PED investigation unrelated to a positive test or a criminal prosecution.