The NFL’s latest move to investigate the discredited Al Jazeera investigation into performance enhancing drug use in the NFL will lead to labor strife like we haven’t seen since Shane Falco suited up at quarterback for the Washington Sentinels.
In 1987, the NFL was rocked by a strike-shortened season. In recent years, despite a lockout, the league has not had such a dramatic labor dispute. Until, possibly, the next time the CBA is negotiated.
Goodell has demanded that players named in the Al Jazeera report submit to interviews. The list includes current Packers Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and former Packer Mike Neal.
On its face, it looks like the NFL trying to flex its discipline muscles yet again, but under the surface, the issue could be the catalyst to more labor strife.
The Al Jazeera report relied on information from a man named Charlie Sly who initially claimed that he had supplied performance enhancing drugs to the likes of Peyton Manning, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal. Sly later recanted his claims when he realized it would be used as part of this report.
Manning was eventually cleared after he cooperated with the investigation after his retirement. The NFLPA has kept the others from participating in this investigation, believing, essentially, that it’s a witch hunt. In response to the non-cooperations, the NFL issued a letter that indicated that the players in question must submit to an interview or face indefinite suspension.
It might seem trivial. If these guys are innocent, why don’t they just interview and get it over with? If there’s nothing to hide, what are they hiding?
But it’s more complicated than that.
The NFLPA has been rightly advising these players not to participate.
First, it’s just another instance of the NFL asserting its control over the players. Clearly they aren’t partners in the league. Players are expendable talent. Add to this the issues with head injuries and early retirement and players are beginning to think twice about participation in a league that only pays lip service to their interests.
Second, the implications of compelling participation in a discredited investigation are far reaching. Some are more obvious than others. As Curt Menefee tweeted:
By threatening suspension 4 not cooperating re unsubstantiated claims, NFL just made it heckuva lot easier 4 public to blackmail players
— Curt Menefee (@curtmenefee) August 15, 2016
Indeed, the NFLPA looks at this required participation as opening the floodgates to claims that simply lack merit. If the precedent is set that players must participate in all investigations, whether credible evidence exists or not, the union may fear that unsubstantiated claims will be brought more often. Even more frightening, the claims might not be brought, but unscrupulous individuals may threaten players that they will come forward with allegations knowing that the NFL will require the player to participate in an investigation.
It’s all about fishing expeditions. If the players are required to participate in all investigations or face suspension, their privacy is essentially non existent. Say what you like about salaries and the wealth many players enjoy, but the prospect that anyone can expose the players’ lives to an NFL investigation is a frightening one.
So where does that leave us? With a fight at the next CBA negotiation, or before.
Some believe this strong arm tactic by the NFL is actually a negotiating tactic. By exerting this power now, the NFL will be able to give back some of the discipline process in future negotiations in exchange for a bigger share of revenue for the owners. That might have worked in the past, but it’s very likely to backfire this time.
Players are more aware than ever that their careers are short. Their earning potential is limited. The effects of playing a violent game are long lasting. And finally, most importantly, a lost season impacts owners infinitely more than it does players.
The NFL is again being shortsighted. Their attempt to exercise power over every aspect of the players’ lives may very well lead to a labor dispute unlike what we’ve seen in the past. Right now the league prints money and the players know it. With everything that has happened under Goodell’s reign, they may finally push back to the point where we lose an entire season.
Many laugh at the prospect that such a strong league and such a popular sport could die out. I’m not laughing anymore. These “small issues” add up. When the players finally fight back we may see a very different NFL emerge. Forcing players to participate in witch hunts is just one step in many that will cause more trouble in the near future.