Football is finally back, more or less, and with it has come a brand new controversy involving a number of NFL players. While what they are being accused of is not as stupid as Ryan Lotche’s situation, it still is not a good look for the players or the league.
Four players, James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal, all are facing allegations of PED use stemming from a report by the now-defunct Al Jazeera America. The NFL decided they wanted to look into the issue, but the players seemed less than pleased to comply, maintaining that nothing had happened. Much of the report’s backing faded once the doctor at the heart of it recanted his statements.
However, the league still is insisting on meeting with the players, but the players all seemed unwilling to do so. Naturally, Roger Goodell responded by threatening to suspend the players.
No, seriously he did. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which runs through the 2020 season, Goodell has the power to act as judge, jury and executioner. Sounds unfair right? Well don’t feel too bad for the players.
This is their fault. Aaron Rodgers pointed out this week that the players have no one to blame but themselves for the amount of power Goodell has. They focused heavily on fewer padded practices and more mandatory days off to prevent injury during the 2011 negotiations. As a result, the league got to push a more stringent agenda regarding the powers of the league office and most notably Goodell.
The NFLPA is reportedly urging all of these players to take a stand against the NFL in this case to challenge Goodell’s power. However, it sounds like Peppers, Matthews and Harrison are all going to meet with the NFL in the coming days. Neal will not though as he is currently a free agent and theoretically has nothing to lose. The latest is that the NFLPA wants Neal to sue the league over the issue. There is no word on what Neal thinks of that plan yet.
On the surface, it seems like the players truly have nothing to lose in meeting with the NFL if they have not taken PEDs. They would have their names cleared and avoid a possible suspension. However, this goes much deeper than that. It seems that a number of players, especially Harrison, are fed up with the way that Goodell wields his power. Taking a stand would be a point of pride in acting as if the allegations were beneath you and a challenge to the authority of Goodell.
Unfortunately, after the results of Deflategate, where Tom Brady ultimately will have to serve his four game suspension, players have seen just how far Goodell and the league office are willing to go to maintain this power struggle. It takes a lot of investment to oppose the NFL on an issue like this because of the potential length of the proceedings. Not to mention the NFL’s persistence. We all thought Deflategate was as good as dead when Brady avoided suspension last season, only to find that the league managed to slap him with it this year instead.
The underlying point is that this will continue to be an issue until after the 2020 season, when the CBA is renegotiated. The scary thing is, with how intense the league has been about maintaining absolute control in player discipline, you have to wonder how willing it might be to budge. And if that is the case, we could be looking at another NFL lockout at the start of the decade. The NFLPA is not willing to back down from this fight and continues to look to find ways to challenge this standard even before the CBA is up.
This will be the main topic of those negotiations and you can bet those arguments are going to be very heated.