The NFL will finally get their meeting with the active players named in the Al-Jazeera report tied to PED use. Three of those players—James Harrison, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews—have agreed to meet with the league, while Mike Neal, a free agent, still hasn't. (Peyton Manning has reportedly been cleared already and is back to making sticky State Farm commercials or Direct TV or whatever that one with Lionel Richie is about).
What's the significance of this? It depends on your perspective, I guess. To the average fan, probably nothing much. Hey some NFL players got accused of using performance enhancing drugs, so of course the league needs to see if it's true. Let's put away the ambivalence of the NFL fan towards PED use for a moment —Who cares, they're all physical and genetic freaks hitting each other. Wait, he's on my fantasy team!—and consider it in a tighter sphere.
Roger Goodell is already the prosecutor, judge, jury, appeals court, supreme court, and executioner in the NFL. He is the law. Now he's also trying to write the law as well.
Albert Breer of The MMQB summed it up well. Though these players are theoretically accused of PED use, according to the strong-arm letter Vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch sent the NFLPA, the NFL is going to consider a failure to participate in, or meaningfully cooperate with their investigation as "conduct detrimental" to league, punishable by indefinite suspension. This gives Goodell and the league way more latitude to investigate and, perhaps, to punish. Although the NFL's drug policy was negotiated through the CBA, the league has devised an end-around to haul players in, even without a failed test. And if, through this investigation, the NFL convinces itself that they violated the drug policy, they can get suspended for that, too. Goodell does whatever the bleep he wants.
It seems reminiscent of the issues surrounding the Biogenesis and Alex Rodriguez mess. Rodriguez never failed a drug test, never had a previous positive test and had the gall to fight Bud Selig about that investigation. Hey, here's your 211 game suspension, A-Rod.
Any inch the NFLPA gives could eventually become a mile. Will it? Who knows. But can anyone actually trust Goodell to decide on this narrowly and not turn it into further precedent? Not to mention that a suspension for possible PED use without the evidence of a failed test creates a murkier atmosphere for NFL players. This has all the makings of trouble.
It didn't seem like the players could really do anything about this though. While they sure tried to take a principled stand and avoid a meeting in the league office, the NFL is willing to punish guys just for its refusal to talk or hide evidence or whatever it deems obstructive. Yes, that's Tom Brady nodding his head, still pissed off. Harrison is at least trying to set boundaries, telling the NFL he'll meet at the Steelers' facility and only about the segment of the report that specifically deals with him, according to Pro Football Talk.
Is it best for the NFL to actually know whether the Al Jazeera story was truthful? Yes. But it's also not in the sport's best interest to mete out more power to Goodell, either. At this point, however, it seems like nothing can avoid his gravitational pull.