Two years ago, as the NFL and NFL Players Association tried to hammer out the details of a new PED policy that would include HGH testing, the NFL insisted on retaining final say over discipline imposed for reasons other than a positive PED test. Eventually, the league got what it wanted.
Under the PED policy, the Commissioner or his designee handles the appeals process for PED violations arising from violations of the law or other “credible documented evidence” of PED use, with only limited appeal rights to an arbitrator regarding whether the player’s due process rights were violated. This means that, in the case of Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, and free-agent defensive lineman Mike Neal, any finding of a violation arising from the investigation sparked by the Al Jazeera report will be handled by Commissioner Roger Goodell personally, or by someone like Harold Henderson.
That’s all the more reason for the players to tread lightly when submitting to their interviews. If the league chooses to twist their words in order to find guilty in connection with the initial decision, the Commissioner or his designee will be less likely than an arbitrator would have been to reject that conclusion.
As recently explained, it’s possible that the league simply wants to exonerate the players, in the same way that quarterback Peyton Manning was exonerated. But there’s still reason to be concerned that a different agenda exists — especially since the current PED testing program so rarely (if ever) catches actual cheaters. And if the league decides to distort the players’ words into a finding of guilt, the Commissioner will still have final say, even though as to the rest of the PED policy he no longer does.