By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s become more than trite, beyond hackneyed, incredibly unimaginative to take Peyton Manning’s current HGH situation and compare it to Tom Brady’s DeflateGate situation.
That being said …
I couldn’t help but sit in astonishment on Sunday afternoon when ESPN’s “NFL Countdown” crew sat around in a state of complete despondence, devastated to have seen their man, their guy, their Peyton have to deal with the indignity of even acknowledging the foul report from Al Jazeera. Chris Berman rolled out his low, brooding voice, the one typically reserved for moments that deal with a terrorist attack or a mass shooting or a player taking part in a game after losing a father to cancer. This was how the reaction to Manning’s 1-on-1 interview with Lisa Salters began, and it only grew worse.
Keyshawn Johnson, apparently unaware that literally 99 percent of PED users issue firm denials before eventually being busted, said this: “If he said he didn’t do it, it didn’t happen. Then it didn’t happen, he didn’t do it. That’s it. The end of it.”
Tom Jackson said this: “I don’t think you can do more than to attack a guy AND his family. It was a fabricated story. … Don’t want to legitimize it more by continuing to talk about it over and over and over, but I think all you need to do is look at Peyton’s history, look at the history of Peyton Manning, of the integrity that he has shown throughout his life. … It’s something that, you know, you wish it wasn’t a story, but because it’s Peyton it became a story, but let’s put it to rest.”
You wish it wasn’t a story. Time to grow up and move out of Candy Land, Tom.
Then, Mike Ditka, who has a PhD in journalism from Columbia (just kidding, he played tight end in the NFL in the ’60s and early ’70s), said: “Al Jazeera is not a credible news organization. They’re all out there spreading garbage. THAT’S WHAT THEY DO! They’re garbage, that’s what they are.”
Mind you, this is coming after a comfortable sit-down interview with a friendly source in ESPN, on the Denver practice field, on his own terms. It was as polite and non-confrontational an interview as any alleged PED user has ever been granted in the hours following the news breaking.
There were no probing questions, there was no digging for more facts; it was simply an offer of a blank canvas to Manning. And he painted a very clear picture: I’m mad, the report was garbage, and it’s not true.
And the ESPN crew ate it up.
There were no national news reporters, asking boldly, “What’s up with our hero?” There were no local reporters asking the quarterback to explain something that is scientifically impossible yet, as it would turn out months later, completely false. There was no badgering, and the national news networks didn’t cut into their programming to bring you Manning’s statements live on the air. A day later, CNN and MSNBC and Fox News didn’t dedicate the bulk of their 24 hours of coverage to tearing down Manning.
That’s what Brady dealt with back in January, and after he finished speaking, ESPN cut to a panel of Mark Brunell, Jerome Bettis and Brian Dawkins. Brunell cried because he said he didn’t believe Brady. Bettis, who lost out on trips to the Super Bowl in 2001 and 2004 at the hands of Brady’s Patriots, stated plainly that he too did not believe Brady. Dawkins, who lost Super Bowl XXXIX to Brady’s Patriots, shockingly agreed with Brunell and Bettis: Tom Brady was a big fat liar.
We then spent the following days hearing from body language experts who broke down Brady’s demeanor. We heard dozens upon dozens of voices offer their own personal opinions about Brady’s believability and very little time, if any, was spent breaking down the actual content of what was said. We still to this day hear Brady criticized for not taking a strong enough stance in that press conference, as people still fail to consider that he was put on the podium to defend himself against false accusations that were leaked by members of the NFL front office. (Though much of “DeflateGate” remains shrouded in mystery, that part is not debatable. The information available when Brady took the podium was false, and it came from the NFL.)
Sadly, we never really found out what’s up with our hero, and that made a lot of people react with vigor in declaring Brady a cheater.
It certainly stands in sharp contrast, one player’s press conference with tough questions, the other getting softballs in a 1-on-1 setting; one player’s words being followed by former opponents who couldn’t beat Brady, the other getting held up as a hero by fawning hosts. (Admittedly, though, finding multiple people who have actually lost in big playoff games to Peyton Manning would be a difficult task. There just aren’t many members in that group.)
And that’s just one disparity in the national reaction to the situation. Much of the country seems to be exercising caution, given the shakiness of Charlie Sly and his efforts to recant his story. And that’s good; folks should always be skeptical of information when it’s obtained through hearsay. Who’s to say Sly wasn’t lying? We can’t know for sure, and we need more information before reaching any sort of definitive conclusion on anything.
That being said, Manning never denied that HGH was shipped to his house, so by “believing” Manning, you are believing that his wife was downing some human growth hormone at the same exact time Peyton was recovering from neck surgeries and his career was so endangered that the organization — the one that drafted him and heralded him as their greatest star in franchise history — was willing to kick him out the door. Peyton “miraculously” recovered from his neck surgeries while his wife was popping HGH. If you want to believe that, you can. This is America, after all.
But it’s an interesting time for the country to begin exercising caution when assessing news reports. In January, everybody ate up Chris Mortensen’s report that 11 of 12 footballs were a full 2 PSI under the allowable limit, a “fact” that would have been clear evidence of tampering with the footballs. When that “fact” was proven to be completely inaccurate, nobody cared much to reevaluate their original positions. Few were even paying attention to the facts by the time the Wells report came out three-and-a-half months later.
There’s also the fact that, right or wrong, this country has been obsessed with performance-enhancing drug use in professional sports for the better part of the past two decades. Hall of Famers have been vilified for their reported use. Alex Rodriguez became a national embarrassment. Mark McGwire will never make the Hall of Fame. Roger Clemens spent years under intense national scrutiny, so much so that he had to go to Congress to continue fighting for his reputation. Lance Armstrong went from American hero to total fraud. Barry Bonds remains a sports villain. Marion Jones had to give back her Olympic medals. George Mitchell spent almost two years investigating steroid use in baseball for Congress. His results, which also came from some questionable sources, were treated as ground-breaking and shocking.
PED use in sports has been a big deal for a long time, and when a big name gets accused, it is without a doubt a major national story.
Meanwhile, not one person on the planet had even one milliliter of interest in the air pressure in footballs until the Patriots were accused of manipulating it. I remember hearing pundits claim that if the Patriots had deflated footballs, then it would have been a disadvantage to Andrew Luck and the Colts. Upon learning that the Colts supplied their own footballs, those same pundits noted how deflating the footballs would represent a distinct advantage for Brady. Seeing so many people contort their own logic in order to denounce the reviled Patriots and their shady quarterback was fascinating to observe.
And it was all over air pressure. Over PSI. Again, that is something that nobody cared about before Jan. 18, 2015, and it’s something they still don’t care about. If they did, they’d demand the NFL publicize its recordings of air pressure in games this year to see if the pressure really does change when it’s put in different environments. (Granted, dozens — hundreds? — of reputable scientists have stated this to be case, but for many people, seeing an apples-to-apples comparison of conditions might be the only way to believe. When things like “PV = nRT” get thrown around, most folks instinctively check out mentally. Sorry, chemistry teachers, but keep trying.)
This is all without even mentioning the work of people like Bozo Hot Take Artist™ Gregg Doyel. He wrote hours after the football deflating accusations were levied that the Patriots should be banned from playing in the Super Bowl, that “cheaters cheat” and that Bill Belichick should be suspended for a season. This time around, having the same sketchy level of information, Doyel threw his unequivocal support behind Manning.
“The conversation starts here with one sentence: I believe in Peyton Manning,” Doyel wrote. “And it ends with this sentence: I am not worried about being wrong.”
Interestingly, some other Manning-related stories from Doyel include headlines like “Doyel: Peyton Manning deserves fairy tale finish” and “Doyel: Peyton Manning isn’t what you think; he’s better.”
Again, there’s a lot we don’t know about Peyton Manning, and to condemn him based on some shaky information would be hasty. But to dismiss the story out of hand immediately upon hearing it? To aggressively discredit Al Jazeera, to show nothing but sympathy for a man for having his privacy invaded, for instantly and blindly believing every word that comes out of his mouth? It’s irresponsible.
And, of course, it’s quite a different collective response from just about everyone “covering” the story compared to the reaction and treatment of Brady over the past 11 months.
And that, in itself, says quite a bit more about the intentions and motives behind the media members involved than it does about either accused party.