Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP

The NFL is threatening to suspend players named in Al Jazeera’s December report about doping in sports unless they agree to interviews with the league by Aug. 25.

Advertisement

On his Facebook page today, Adam Schefter published a letter from Adolpho Birch, the league’s senior vice president of labor policy and league affairs. Birch specifically names the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison, the Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, and Mike Neal, a free agent who last played for the Packers. Those four players have sent sworn affidavits to the NFL. Harrison’s statement looked like this:

The NFLPA backed their players and believed that to be sufficient, especially for a report that was questionable to the point where two athletes named, Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman, filed lawsuits against Al Jazeera for libel. Regardless of the veracity of the report, the league isn’t satisfied with sworn affidavits, so Birch sent this stern-sounding letter, which includes sentences like, “There can be no question that the league has a good faith basis for conducting this investigation.”

Advertisement

As you know, the league has been investigating a nationally televised report concerning potential violations of the collectively bargained Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances. There can be no question that the league has a good faith basis for conducting this investigation; moreover, the league and NFLPA have a shared interest in ensuring that our jointly developed policy is not being violated.

Nevertheless, since the initiation of our investigation in January the league has made at least seven attempts to arrange interviews of Messrs. Harrison, Matthews, Neal and Peppers. On each occasion, the NFLPA has communicated the players’ refusal to participate. Most recently, the NFLPA has attempted to prevent the interviews by submitting for each player a half-page statement, which you advised should be treated as a sworn statement given in a legal proceeding, and which you contend should fulfill the players’ acknowledged obligation to cooperate with the investigation. The statements, however, are wholly devoid of any detail, and we were quickly able to determine that Mr. Neal’s statement includes an assertion that is demonstrably false. Rather than eliminate the need for interviews, the players’ plainly deficient statements simply underscore the importance of obtaining their full cooperation.

You were so advised on July 29, when we again wrote to offer the players another opportunity to participate in an interview, beginning with Mr. Neal. In that letter, you were expressly notified that continued noncooperation could result in discipline up to and including a suspension. In response, you provided a revised statement and letter which acknowledged Mr. Neal’s prior steroid policy violation and that his previous “sworn statement” is in fact untrue. Most important, you advised that Mr. Neal had again refused to cooperate with our investigation by participating in an interview.

There is no dispute that players are obligated to cooperate with the league’s investigation, as you have repeatedly acknowledged. This obligation includes not only the responsibility to submit to an interview but also the duty to provide meaningful responses to the questions posed. Nor is there a dispute that a failure to cooperate or an attempt to obstruct the investigation may result in discipline, including suspension from play, for conduct detrimental under Article 46 of the CBA and the NFL Player Contract.

We cannot accept your unilateral assertion that the cursory, untested statements you have submitted satisfy the players’ obligation. Accordingly, the Commissioner has directed that Messrs. Harrison, Matthews, Neal and Peppers be given until Thursday, August 25 to provide interviews. For those players whose interviews do not take place on or before that date, or who fail meaningfully to participate in or otherwise obstruct the interview, their actions will constitute conduct detrimental and they will be suspended, separate and apart from any possible future determination that they violated the steroid policy. The suspension for each such player will begin on Friday, August 26 and will continue until he has fully participated in an interview with league investigators, after which the Commissioner will determine whether and when the suspension should be lifted.

To avoid this outcome, please promptly contact my office to make arrangements for the interviews. As previously stated, we will make every effort to accommodate the NFLPA’s availability, within the outlined time period.

Aug. 25 will be the date to watch if this standoff lasts that long. Will the NFL actually go through with its threat and suspend players for conduct detrimental for refusing to give interviews? The league hammered then-rookie quarterback Terrelle Pryor for five games because of “integrity,” so the possibility’s totally within the realm.

[Facebook]