By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For a man who is just a “slapstick” who spewed “a bunch of hooey and garbage” in Al Jazeera’s documentary “The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers”, Charlie Sly sure knows how to fool people with insanely elaborate schemes.
At least, that is what Ari Fleischer and the rest of Peyton Manning’s legal cohorts want the general public to believe. And they probably will, because many would believe anything that dismisses the idea of Manning as a “cheater.” But that’s not even the important part of this story; it’s the biased reactions, the embarrassing under-reporting by sports news outlets, and the behavior of Manning and his team that cynics would call a “cover-up.”
The Washington Post published a report Thursday night detailing Manning’s “secret investigation” of Sly by his assembled team of investigators, which happened before the documentary aired. It only adds to the intrigue and “strange twists and turns” of the story, as the report described it.
As any good investigative team would do, Al Jazeera reached out to everyone implicated in the documentary to ask for comment and warn them about what they were about to reveal to the world. This prompted Manning – just one of many athletes named in the documentary, but easily the most high-profile – to send two private investigators to the Sly home.
That is, the home of Randall and Judith Sly. Charlie’s parents.
According to the Post, Manning’s legal team hired investigators to “identify, locate and interrogate Sly,” and sent another lawyer to the Cuyer Institute in Indianapolis to “examine” the medical records of both Peyton and Ashley Manning. Fleischer said that no records were removed from the Institute, and that there was no intimidation on the part of the investigators to convince Sly to recant his statements.
The investigators’ visit found them speaking to Sly’s sister, who called 911 saying one of the investigators claimed to be a “law enforcement officer” but couldn’t present a badge, then later identifying himself as a private investigator. It’s very illegal to impersonate a police officer, if that is indeed what this guy did. Deadspin has obtained audio of the 911 call.
UPDATE (2:37PM):Sly spoke with ESPN’s Outside the Lines Thursday night and described the investigators as “great guys. Like, very good guys. Very professional.”
Travis Cohron, Sly’s lawyer, has claimed that everything his client said in the documentary was indeed false, and he made up stories and name-dropped famous athletes to impress undercover reporter Liam Collins in an effort to make a business deal.
“[My client’s story] was pure puffery,” Cohron said. “He was manufacturing a story to bolster his own appearance.”
An agreeable person might find this scenario plausible. However, Manning’s team contradicted, in a way, Cohron’s comments when he confirmed that the Guyer Institute shipped “medication” to Ashley Manning, without denying that the shipment was HGH. As far as Peyton’s place in this story is concerned, that is all that Al Jazeera ever reported.
That hasn’t stopped Manning from angrily denying that he ever took HGH (even though the allegation in the documentary was nothing more than an insinuation by Sly), hiring an All-Star team of private investigators, sending them to the homes of Sly and his parents before the report drops, and sending lawyers to comb through his own medical records.
I’m no legal expert, and I wouldn’t expect Manning to do nothing in the face of these allegations. But for a supposedly innocent man with nothing to hide (or, “nothing to discover” as Mike Hurley put it), his approach to the whole situation has seemed oddly aggressive.
As for Sly … We are now supposed to believe that his behavior throughout the documentary was just an intricate, coordinated scheme designed to court a single potential business partner.
We are supposed to believe that a syringe Sly offered to Collins contained a “vitamin supplement,” and that all of the pill bottles in this cardboard box in Sly’s refrigerator was either totally legit, or just planted to look like PEDs:
We are supposed to believe that doctor Brandon Spletzer went along with the ruse, lugging boxes full of fake drugs to show off to Collins:
We are supposed to believe that pharmacist Chad Robertson also played along, detailing PED regimens with Collins while recommending he get a “fall guy.”
We are supposed to believe that Taylor Teagarden, the one athlete named in the documentary who actually appears in it, was yet another person to participate in Sly’s scheme, when he willingly implicated himself in a fabricated PED scandal by detailing his use of Delta-2, a steroid banned by Major League Baseball.
Furthermore, we are supposed to believe that Sly’s partnership with trainer Jason Riley and his pro-athlete clients, many of which are named in the documentary, is either a ridiculously dedicated exercise in grifting, or the most improbable coincidence in history.
We are supposed to believe that in Manning’s personal investigation, Guyer employees pinned the comments on Sly by his comment “take IVs and [expletive].” And that Sly, described as a “fleshy, fast-talking intern,” is the guy who wove this incredibly layered and convincing web of deceit, the kind that would make Robert Redford and Paul Newman proud. That guy.
Essentially, we are supposed to believe that Sly is Roger “Verbal” Kint, Kevin Spacey’s garrulous, gimpy character in The Usual Suspects who (spoiler alert, I guess) spends the whole movie answering questions about a mysterious crime kingpin named Keyser Söze, only for the investigator to realize at the end that Kint made up the whole thing on the spot and he was really Keyser Söze all along. If you somehow believe Manning, or any of the athletes named in the documentary, are innocent, then you basically believe that Sly is Keyser Söze.
This whole thing is becoming an Occam’s Razor situation. In figuring out whether Sly’s claims were true or false, the best answer, according to the theory, is the one with the fewest assumptions. There are far too many assumptions about Sly’s supposed fabrication that need to be made for any of the people named to be totally clean.
Again, this isn’t even about PEDs. If Manning was caught red-handed and admitted HGH use, the revelation would not affect his legacy by any considerable measure, nor should it. But this is not about whether or not he did it. It’s the dismissals from sports media outlets and personalities and the astonishingly extensive efforts of Manning’s camp to maintain his innocence, all while confirming the crux of Al Jazeera’s report.
Perhaps most disingenuous of all was Fleischer’s comment on Sly that “We’ve never said he had everything wrong. We just said what he said about Peyton was wrong.” Implying that it’s possible that Manning’s name was the only innocent one in the entire scenario.
The story continues to gradually swell, despite the best efforts of national sports media outlets (and Manning’s camp) to squash it. Whether Manning is confirmed to have taken HGH or not, it’s not about that anymore. It’s not about the alleged “crime,” it’s about the cover-up.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.