By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With two very high-profile disputes still working through high levels of the judicial system, the NFLPA is seemingly intent on preventing a few more from reaching that point.
Just days after James Harrison made his own (hilarious) list of demands in response to the NFL’s order to be interviewed as part of a PED investigation, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah indicated on “PFT Live” that the union isn’t entirely convinced that it needs to bow to the demands of the NFL.
As noted by PFT’s Mike Florio, the PED policy requires the NFL to gather “credible evidence” against a player before administering punishment. That evidence could be the results of a urine test, or “violations of law and other documented evidence-based violations.”
The NFL has neither. The NFL merely has the words of Charlie Sly, who was unwittingly recorded while talking about several NFL players’ PED use.
Atallah told Florio that such comments don’t equate to “credible evidence.”
“We certainly don’t think that that’s enough to merit an investigation,” Atallah told Florio. “You and I both know that people say a bunch of crazy things on media and social media and if were in a world where the league wanted to investigate every time somebody tweeted something about a player they’d have a whole heck of a lot of staff they’d need to hire to do that.”
On this point, Atallah’s case is somewhat of a stretch. To dismiss the evidence as merely being the words of Sly is disingenuous at best. For one, Peyton Manning never denied drugs being shipped to his home under his wife’s name; he merely stated the drugs were never for him. In fact, here’s a line from The Washington Post: “The Guyer Institute did ship medication to Ashley Manning, Fleischer confirmed.”
That would be Ari Fleischer, aka Manning’s own crisis management consultant hired in the wake of the controversy, confirming exactly what Sly alleged in the documentary. Ergo, Sly’s public recanting on YouTube has already been proven to be a lie in itself.
Further, The New York Times found a connection that made Sly’s seemingly random group of named players make a whole lot more sense.
Additionally, when MLB suspended Taylor Teagarden after he appeared in the documentary admitting to PED use, Teagarden did not even appeal the punishment.
And frankly, Atallah’s repeated reminders that Sly’s claims were recanted are simply bogus. Sly recanted his claims without even knowing what his claims were, and he made the statement after a frightening visit from some private investigators.
Leaving aside some of the weaknesses in Atallah’s case, the story gets very interesting when he detailed the union’s approach to submitting to investigative interviews such as the ones the NFL hopes to conduct this summer at training camps.
“If you take the league at their word from the letter that they leaked on Friday, they are threatening to impose some sort of discipline if the players don’t cooperate, so I would assume that that would trigger some sort of mechanism by which an arbitrator would have to resolve this,” Atallah told Florio. “Our position [is] pretty clear. They have not provided anything beyond the report to substantiate doing a full-blown investigation and the dance goes on.”
Clearly, the NFL has a credibility issue. With Ray Rice, the investigative interview was very close to being a complete sham, with the distinct smell of a cover-up lingering long after the case faded from public consciousness. With Richie Incgonito and Tom Brady, it’s been clear that when Ted Wells sets out to reach a conclusion, he can find a way to manipulate the process as he sees fit — all with a paycheck and the satisfied approval of the NFL, of course.
Now, the union is clearly scrapping any way it can to try to prevent a slanted or predetermined investigation to bring down a number of players, including big names like Harrison, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.
And on that subject, Atallah really let it rip.
“That’s not a fair due process and I think that is a concern that has been highlighted in the way that they have done other investigations in the past,” Atallah told Florio of the potential of the league holding the interviews in the hopes of getting the players to accidentally reveal some guilt. “If this was a league office that had a shred of integrity left then there would not be this issue at the moment and we would have figured out a way already to resolve this. If we had a group of players and a group of fans and media who had a shred of confidence in the way that they proceed with these issues we would not be having this discussion about whether or not they have the right to investigate or not because we would have resolved this thing already. They’re not in the business of resolving issues quietly, amicably, and in a way that’s best for business. They just are interested in imposing their will any which way they want, and we’re always going to stand up for our players rights.”
In New England, certainly everyone can understand this sentiment, but a story like this one could push the league’s heavy-handed approach to discipline to the national level. And certainly, stating that the NFL doesn’t have even “a shred of integrity left” is without a doubt a shot directly across commissioner Roger Goodell’s bow.
Goodell famously factored in Tom Brady’s “failure to cooperate” with the Wells investigation (despite Wells’ describing of Brady as “fully cooperative”) when upholding his own decision of imposing a four-game suspension to the Patriots quarterback. If the players who now stand to be confronted by NFL investigators at the start of training camp choose to outright deny them the opportunity for interviews, the league-union battle could create quite the spectacle throughout the summer.
Once again, the battle is less about actual guilt or innocence and more about what the league can prove. According to the NFL’s PED policy, the league might not have any right to grill these players. Had the NFL conducted itself more honestly and openly, then perhaps it wouldn’t find itself in its current predicament.