Shocker: The NFL Once Again Abuses Its Powers with the Al-Jazeera Four

Photo Credit: Scripps Media

I’m sure this will come as an absolutely shocking development, but Roger Goodell is abusing his powers again. I know; surprise, surprise.

Last December, Al-Jazeera news released the results of a months-long investigation into doping in sports (the American wing of the organization folded three months later). The reason why you heard about it was because then-Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (and others; more on them later) was implicated in the exposé as being affiliated with Dale Guyer, the head of Indianapolis’ Guyer Institute. It is known that Manning visited Guyer’s anti-aging clinic multiple times in 2011, which also coincided with the season he missed because of four neck surgeries. Why he went to the Guyer Institute is not known; what is known is that Manning never failed a drug test and there is no credible evidence that he was doping. Frankly, it’s none of our business why Manning went to the institute. Guyer did send drugs to the Manning household under the name of Ashley Manning, Peyton’s wife. And it’s none of our business if she was the one taking drugs, either, which is very plausible.

Of course, Manning retired into the sunset after last season’s Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers. Where this story (which is nearly 8 months old) pertains to today’s events is that four current players were implicated in the report. They are Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, both of the Packers, James Harrison of the Steelers, and Mike Neal, who is currently a free agent. An unpaid intern at the Guyer Institute, Charlie Sly, attested to giving Delta 2 (or D-2 for short), a banned substance, to every player but Matthews in various instances. Sly said that Matthews was not on D-2 but requested Toradol from Sly in a text message shown in the documentary. (Toradol is so dangerous that it is banned in several countries; it is legal to obtain it in the United States.) Another doctor, Chad Robertson, also claimed to give Matthews Percocet before the 2015 NFC Championship Game. Sly says that Matthews used to take HGH and was on Ipamorelin at the time of the documentary. Robertson also claimed to have given Neal, then a linebacker for the Packers, medication that helped increase his salary from $400,000 to $2 million in the span of a season.

If you’re reading all that and your head is about to explode, I don’t blame you. The documentary features many damning claims about quite a few of the league’s best players; it also implicates Ryan Howard, Ryan Zimmerman, and Taylor Teagarden, all of whom played (or are still playing) professional baseball at the highest level. There is a lot of juicy information packed into 49 minutes and 13 seconds of video. There’s just one problem that I found with the investigation:

There is absolutely zero hard, credible, concrete evidence that the players implicated actually used performance-enhancing drugs.

Teagarden is the one exception to this rule. In the report, aptly titled The Dark Side, Teagarden is seen talking to a British runner named Liam Collins; Collins was visiting with Sly to pick up medication he will never take to help his chances at making the Olympics. Collins was hired by Al-Jazeera to carry out his fake story and is most famous off the track for swindling would-be customers out of nearly a million dollars in a property scheme. Anyway, Teagarden speaks about his years of testosterone use and how he evaded multiple drug MLB drug tests. My gut feeling is that he wouldn’t be talking so openly about this if it was all a lie. Then again, four United States Olympic swimmers are in the news for straight-up lying about being robbed at gunpoint, so I don’t know who to believe anymore.

And that’s where the NFL and Goodell come in.

Last week, the league threatened to suspend the current players involved in the Al-Jazeera report. To be clear, the threat of suspension would only come true if the players didn’t cooperate with the league’s investigation. Ironically, this same NFL investigation exonerated Manning of any wrongdoing three weeks ago. However, the league used the suspension threat as a way of getting the players to cooperate with the investigation. Apparently, it worked; it was announced today that Harrison, Matthews, and Peppers have agreed to meet with investigators associated with the NFL.

But that’s not the problem here. This is the real issue: the NFL clearly overstepped its bounds in threatening suspension for players who refused to speak with the league. To be completely honest, abuse of power has been Roger Goodell’s legacy in his ten-year (!) tenure as NFL commissioner. We saw this abuse in Deflategate, Bountygate, the Ray Rice saga, and almost any other incident involving NFL players and coaches. He is slowly turning the league into his own totalitarian regime and has made himself judge, jury, and executioner in disciplinary matters.

The NFL overstepped its bounds because it needs credible evidence or a failed drug test as a basis to interview the players. It has neither of those things. And while the league has told the Players’ Union that it has evidence “beyond what’s been reported publicly”, it hasn’t been willing to come forward with that new information. So it may be an honest, independent investigation. Or it could be a nontransparent witch-hunt. I’d say the lack of an in-between option might be an issue here.

And yet, the players are partially to blame for this. I feel like a broken record in saying this, but the players did negotiate away key rights in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. Among those rights was Roger Goodell’s policy power; the players had the opportunity to hold out and have Goodell’s all-encompassing disciplinary faculties either severely reduced or eradicated completely. They didn’t do that, and that’s a very large part of the reason we’re sitting here talking about this today. And while the players have the right to complain about Goodell’s power, those who were around in 2011 contributed to the growth of Goodell’s empire.

And I’ll also say this: I’m somewhat surprised the players decided to agree to the interview. While they believe answering questions will improve their chances of avoiding suspension (and rightfully so), I honestly thought they would take a stand against the league. Albert Breer of The MMQB made the case for the players doing this today:

Don’t show up. Don’t go to New York. Block Adolpho Birch’s number if you have to. Sit on your hands, dare the NFL to suspend you, and see what comes next.

After union losses in the cases of Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson, if these four players answer Goodell, there’s no way to conclude that the commissioner powers are going to change before 2021. It also wouldn’t bode well for what’s to come in the next round of labor talks, given that it would score another union-busting win for the NFL’s barons and another blow against player solidarity.

Adolpho Birch is one of the league employees who helps Goodell oversee the league’s disciplinary policies and drug enforcement. He was also the poor gentleman rolled out by the league to defend the commissioner in the wake of the Ray Rice incident; it didn’t go too well.

The NFL players are not without blame in this situation; just today, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said that there was no relationship between the Players’ Union and Goodell. But while the players aren’t without reproach here, it’s clear that Goodell overreached in his powers by forcing the players into an interview.

But is that even a surprise anymore? It shouldn’t be.

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