By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL has conducted or facilitated several large-scale investigations in recent years, even of its own employees, and such processes have commonly been reported in the media with at least reasonable frequency, whether through leaks or detailed reports or a combination of the two.
The league’s investigation into whether Peyton Manning used human growth hormone (or any other performance-enhancing drug) during his playing career took seven months, yet minimal media reporting took place as it went on and the resulting decision came in the form of a single-page press release exonerating Manning. Why such little publicity for the kind of story that, typically, dominates NFL headlines?
You don’t have to answer that question … unless you’re oblivious to the ostensible reality that the NFL has an internal obligation to protect the Manning name, and that’s why this particular investigation came and went with a whimper. But, considering the investigation took seven months and was multi-faceted in terms of the league’s methods, certainly there has to be more than one page of documentation or information related to it. And, like Sen. Jeanne Shaheen called for the public release of the league’s PSI recordings from last season, I believe the public has a right to see something more than what they got.
In a vacuum, the league’s investigation of Manning should be no different from any other lengthy investigation conducted by the league or hired independent investigators. There’s precedent for it, and it goes well beyond the past year-and-a-half. …
– The league’s investigation into the New Orleans Saints “bounty” scandal began in the 2010 offseason and did not conclude for nearly two years, before the NFL released a two-page statement reporting the major findings of the investigation. The report detailed how much money Saints players earned for certain results, as well as the coaches and executives involved in the program. The league exonerated Saints coach Sean Payton as a “direct participant” in the scandal, but still held him culpable for knowing about the program and failing to stop it.
– The NFL hired Ted Wells to investigate the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal involving offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, stemming from an incident in October of 2013. Released on February 14, 2014, the months-long investigation yielded a 144-page report detailing a “pattern of harassment” between Dolphins players and Martin. The report reads that the investigation found no evidence that the Dolphins front office was aware of the treatment that Martin deemed abusive or encouraged any bullying behavior from his teammates.
– Former FBI director Robert Mueller investigated the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal in the fall of 2014. A 65-page report of his findings exonerated NFL front-office executives from any prior knowledge of a now-infamous video showing Rice assaulting his then-fiancee in an elevator. The report went into great detail to explain how it investigated the league, including searches of Goodell’s computers and phones with assistance from a “digital forensic company.” Investigators also searched more than 400 computers connected to the league’s internal network and went through painstaking research of hundreds of phone records.
– The league’s investigation of the Patriots in DeflateGate – and the resulting 18 months of leaked information, press conferences, and legal battles – was well-documented here on CBS Boston and across the country.
SEE ALSO: Volin: Peyton Manning, Manning Family Likely ‘Taken Care Of’ By NFL In PED Investigation
The Mueller report, in particular, proved that the league is willing and able to publicly share details of an investigation that did not produce credible evidence to find a party guilty of wrongdoing. Mueller’s report and its appendices spanned 92 pages; the entire press release exonerating Manning contained 129 words.
The league’s seven-month investigation included “witness interviews, a review of relevant records and other materials, online research, and laboratory analysis and review.” There must have been something that could have been pulled from those processes and explained in greater detail. A more thorough description of the “witness interviews” could have given more insight into who or what participated in the investigation. The league most certainly could have released more details about the “laboratory analysis and review” and whatever that entailed.
As for the “review of relevant records and other materials,” a “source with direct knowledge of the investigation” told Pro Football Talk that the Mannings provided the NFL with “all relevant documents” needed for the investigation. It’s unclear whether any of those documents were the medical records already ‘examined’ by a Manning lawyer at the Guyer Institute in Indianapolis, none of which Manning’s “crisis management consultant” Ari Fleischer said were removed or tampered with in a way that would obstruct the investigation.
This is not to say that the league is covering up evidence that Manning is guilty, or that they are lying about what they did or how hard they investigated Manning, or that it should be considered commonplace for the league to publicly report every detail of what went on during months-long investigations. Frankly, the way the league handled the Manning case should be how they handle all of their investigations in the public eye.
However, keeping investigations private simply doesn’t serve their public interests, which is to have the NFL ingrained in your consciousness all year round – unless it’s a special case like that of the Mannings, the league’s de facto “royal family.” A more detailed report would have resulted in much more coverage and scrutiny that the league or the Mannings would have ever wanted.
Manning appears to have received special treatment as compared to that of several other teams, players, and executives who were subjected to intense public scrutiny and rampant reporting on the details of their cases as the league investigated them. This is not the least bit surprising, but at the very least it is, as Michael Hurley put it in his Monday column, “curious.”
The public has received plenty of reading material over the past several years regarding investigations of alleged cheating, domestic violence, bullying, and violations of player safety. It would not be surprising if it gets another fresh report detailing the investigation of all the other players named in the Al Jazeera report, the ones not fortunate enough to carry the Manning name. In light of that, it’s only fair that it gets more information regarding a seven-month investigation of alleged PED use, which Goodell himself likened to the allegations made against Tom Brady, who will serve a four-game suspension to start the 2016 season.
The NFL constantly fed the public through many other high-profile investigations involving similar alleged transgressions to those of Manning. The public has a right to be fed more than what it was in Manning’s case. It has a right to read more about what the league did in its investigation. It has a right to know.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.