By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Roger Goodell may have emerged victorious in his drawn-out fight with Tom Brady over some footballs that may or may not have been manipulated in a bathroom, but the NFL commissioner is now finding himself in the middle of a controversy over something that didn’t happen in a bathroom.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is currently facing a four-game suspension, reportedly for missing multiple drug tests.
Last season, Bell was suspended for two games to start the year in 2015 after he and LeGarrette Blount were arrested for marijuana possession. That suspension was originally for three games, but he appealed, and the two sides settled on a two-game suspension.
Yet as a result of that punishment, Bell found himself subjected to many more drug tests than the average player who has not failed a drug test or been arrested for possession. And somewhere along the line, Bell apparently stopped taking the mandated tests.
But that’s where it gets interesting. As noted by Pro Football Talk and CBS Sports, Bell has made a few things clear via comments made from his private Instagram account.
“I’m not gonna miss games, trust me,” he said, per PFT.
He expounded a bit in a comment unearthed by CBS Sports.
He wrote: “I’m gonna win the appeal … ppl have no idea what happened, but don’t worry…let em hate, when I end up missin no games at all, ppl for sure gonna try to love me again and I’m only ridin with my LOYAL fans!!”
While the NFL’s rules for missed drug tests are fairly black and white, Pro Football Talk did uncover a fascinating wrinkle. The substance-abuse policy includes a detailed section about confidentiality, one which prevents any party with knowledge of any drug punishment from disclosing that information publicly until the appeals process has been completed.
“The [NFL] Management Council may publicly announce or acknowledge disciplinary action against a Player when a suspension is upheld or if the allegations relating to a Player’s violation of the Program previously are made public through a source other than the Management Council or a Club (or their respective employees or agents),” it reads.
And the penalties for violating the confidentiality provisions are stiff.
“The Parties may, in appropriate cases, agree to retain an independent investigator to investigate and report on alleged breaches of confidentiality,” it states. “Any Player, Club or Club employee who breaches the confidentiality provisions of this Policy is subject to a fine of up to $500,000 by the Commissioner. Any NFLPA employee, or other person subject to the Executive Director’s authority who breaches these provisions shall be subject to a fine of up $500,000 by the Executive Director. Any Certified Contract Advisor who breaches these provisions shall be subject to discipline under the NFLPA Regulations for Certified Contract Advisors. Any other person involved in the administration of this Policy who breaches these provisions shall be subject to termination of services or other appropriate action.”
And, again as noted by PFT, it’s interesting to note that it was Ian Rapoport, he of the NFL-owned NFL Network, who reported on Bell missing multiple tests.
Reporters like Rapoport, Judy Battista and formerly Albert Breer have all gone to great lengths to operate independently from the “Shield,” and their reporting generally appears to be uncompromised in that respect. Though Breer did explain some constraints of the job after leaving the network, the reporters typically seem to operate on the same level as their peers around the country. From a discerning eye that’s judging media, such reporting can be seen for what it is … but from the eye of a suspended player who saw nothing but an NFL logo next to a reporter’s face on Twitter, it’s easy to see how something might seem amiss.
(It’s also worth noting that we’re living in a time where Jason Pierre-Paul is in the midst of suing Adam Schefter for tweeting an image of Pierre-Paul’s medical records, so privacy violations may be an increasing area of concern among players.)
Of course, a reporter (or network) in this case won’t be issued the $500,000 fine from the commissioner for simply reporting, but Bell perhaps believes that information of the missed drug tests was leaked out by league or team employees who were not authorized to leak such information. And as the 18-month ball-deflation saga proved, the NFL does indeed have its fair share of leaks.
The unwavering confidence in Bell about beating the suspension is not unprecedented. Four years ago, Richard Sherman likewise believed he would beat the NFL in an appeal for a drug suspension, albeit for a PED violation, and he eventually was proven correct.
“I know what the truth is and anybody else who knows anything knows what the truth is,” Sherman said at the time, sounding awfully similar to what Bell is currently saying.
Sherman won that case on a technicality — the cup which contained his urine sample began leaking, and the tester then transferred the sample to another cup without documenting the circumstances. Perhaps Bell feels he has found a similar loophole that can help him win his own case.
While Tom Brady likely felt at various times throughout his own process that he’d ultimately win, he ultimately learned that Roger Goodell can be one difficult mean to beat. However, one thing Bell has that Brady didn’t is that drug appeals are heard by neutral arbitrators and not the commissioner himself. So there may indeed be a chance for the running back.
Whatever ends up happening, one thing is clear: Pittsburgh is certainly giving New England a run for its money in terms of being the least-hospitable place to Roger Goodell these days. With James Harrison inviting the commish over to his house for a spot of tea and a friendly chat, and with Le’Veon Bell boldly treating a four-game suspension as a joke, it’s fair to assume Goodell won’t be scheduling any public trips to the city of Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.