As of Thursday, free-agent defensive lineman Mike Neal was determined not to meet with the NFL regarding the league’s PED investigation arising from December’s Al Jazeera documentary. As of Friday, Neal had done a 180.
So why did he do it? Let’s speculate as to the potential reasons.
First, Neal SURELY realizes he has no chance of getting signed unless and until his name is cleared. It won’t be cleared until he submits to the interview. Even if his words are twisted and warped and taken out of context to support a desired conclusion that he used PEDs, the sooner that comes to a head and he serves what would be a six-game suspension, the sooner he’ll be free and clear to return to the NFL.
Second, Friday’s announcement from Major League Baseball clearing Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard of PED violations due to allegations made in the same documentary may have prompted Neal to realize that he, too, will be cleared if he simply cooperates.
“The accusations from Al Jazeera came out of nowhere, and I was shocked and outraged by their false claims,” Ryan Howard said in a statement issued Friday. “I welcomed the investigation by Major League Baseball as an opportunity to clear my name. I was fully cooperative and transparent in the process, and MLB’s findings validate what I have said publicly. I am glad that this part of the process has concluded, and I look forward to holding the responsible people accountable for these false and defamatory claims in my ongoing litigation against Al Jazeera and its reporters.”
Coupled with the exoneration of Peyton Manning, Neal may have realized that, even if the league has opted to presume guilt and work backward to prove it, they still won’t be able to make the pieces fit in this case.
Third, perhaps the NFL and the NFLPA finally have had an off-the-record, wink-nod conversation regarding the league’s unwillingness to give credence to the Al Jazeera report but its inability to do so unless the players cooperate. (Would it surprise anyone if the league and Peyton Manning had communications to that effect before he submitted to an interview?) The only problem with this hypothesis is that the NFL and the NFLPA currently don’t enjoy the level of trust needed to get the union to take a leap of faith based on a wink and a nod. Likewise, the union justifiably was concerned about the precedent created by interviewing players based solely on the recanted allegations of an individual who already has been discredited by the Manning investigation.
Regardless of the reason, all four of the accused players — Neal, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, and Steelers linebacker James Harrison — will submit to interviews. Although things could get dicey if the players balk at certain questions asked, anything other than an eventual statement exonerating them will be a surprise, and it will give even more ammunition for those who wonder whether these investigations are more about sending messages and flexing muscles than ferreting out the truth.