Here was the thing about last week’s AFC Championship game — whichever quarterback won would need to face a week on Super Bowl Radio Row answering questions which will certainly include vague softballs about his off field regimen, including accusations of illegal performance enhancing substances. With Peyton Manning coming up victorious (17/32, 176 yards), all eyes are pointed to his legacy and the Al-Jazeera allegations of his use of human growth hormone (HGH). For this reason, Patriot faithful have already nicknamed him PEDton Manning (get it?).
Meanwhile, AFC Championship Participant, Tom Brady will have avoided the hard hitting press corps for the 2016 season, basically, in its entirety. With the exception of his appearances on the Patriots flagship, WEEI, and Westwood One during their Monday Night Football pregame broadcasts (which I’m pretty sure are prerecorded), Brady has pulled off a perfect David Ortiz, in that everyone outside of Boston knows he’s a cheater but he didn’t actively admit it all season and, thus, is held in ever higher regard by Massachusetts’ finest fans.
Regarding Manning, the league threw him, not surprisingly, a huge PR Get-Out-Of-Questions-Free Card this week when they announced a ‘comprehensive investigation’ into the allegations of his HGH use. And since this investigation won’t be complete before the Super Bowl, look forward to a whole lot of, “Well, the league is handling their investigation and I’ll refrain from publicly commenting while fully cooperating with [name of some sham attorney that does work with Joe Ellis and handles all of John Elway’s car dealership lawsuits].”
@Blaxabbath It’s going on. Been away from home, but it will be there.
— The Commish (@YourTeamCheats) December 29, 2015
As you may remember, the NFL began an independent investigation right around this time last year, the deliverable being the Ted Wells Report, followed by the hilarious WellsReportContext.Com, which is basically if YourTeamCheats.Com and a second year law student had to put together a website for a class project. Anyways, after all the suspensions, appeals, upheldsions of suspensions, and formal lawsuits had been settled, the only concrete takeaway that everyone could agree on was this: the NFL’s independent investigations are not independent and have no integrity.
Shocker, I know.
So when the league announced that they were going to address whether or not their favorite spokesman had been up to no good, all eyes rolled at the idea of Goodell doing anything other sweeping the whole fucking thing under the rug then taking bids from the various armed forces branches for rights to burn copies of Al Jazeera to the Top Gun soundtrack during halftime at every NFL game next November.
In the Al Jazeera report, athletes beyond Manning were mentioned, including MLB players Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman, who have both filed libel lawsuits as a result of the report. As the MLB is working to clean up its image and crack down on PED use (as well as home runs, ticket sales, and overall excitement with regard to the sport), they’ve partnered with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to field an investigation into the official claims. The NFL, on the other hand, has declined partnership in the investigation (even though their PR machine says otherwise).
@gregaiello No, it isn’t. NFL is not working “with” them, it’s communicating with them while they work together.
— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) January 27, 2016
So here’s the thing about lies, right — they have a tendency to create webs. And as those webs get larger — and exponentially more complex with the numbers of parties involved — the amount of stress put on the story, as well as the characters, often grows to a quite unmanageable scale. The NFL is a dirty business. It’s violent and the perpetual battle of Safety verses Sport will never be solved. It’s also enormous; a publicly-protected monopoly worth billions in private revenue, public kickbacks, and military contacts (for signs of patriotism). Finally all, it’s competitive. Competitive to make the team; competitive to keep your job; competitive to win your division; competitive to just make it beyond the 3.3 year average career in the league.
But above all, the National Football League is influential. Directly influential. Providing the attraction that delivers the biggest broadcast ratings every year, the NFL is the most powerful non-stockholder at ESPN. And CBS. And NBC. And Fox. As we all saw with the Peter King apology after botching his report about the Ray Rice elevator tape, the media establishments that feed at the trough of NFL access are as independent as Ted Wells receiving his retainer check and Ballghazi report conclusion in the same pre-investigation FedEx package.
While the USADA is but a pseudo government agency, the results of their findings will no doubt carry significant weight so long as the agency does not completely ignore any consideration of the names Manning, Julius Peppers, or Clay Matthews throughout their investigation. And this is what is causing such a rift between The Shield and their not-so-independent media partners, who are as guilty as the NFL for ignoring the open secrets about PED use in pro football. Like cockroaches scattering from the USADA light, every media organization is looking to abandon the NFL on this one — but looking to do it without showing their golden goose just how much distance they are taking.
The tweet above, between NFL PR and ESPN, is just the beginning of a rift that will not settle until both investigations are complete and with similar conclusions. When the NFL handles ever aspect of an incident — from investigating to delivering punishment to handling appeals — in house, the narrative is simple enough to believe (or impossible to disprove by outsiders without accessibility). Now that a separate organization, a hungry and quite competent organization, is running a parallel and greater investigation, the NFL’s conclusion-first method of research simply will not fly.
My prediction? I think the NFL is going to run a quick clean investigation focused on a very high and very specific definition of misconduct, as it relates to the facts presented in the Al Jazeera report. That Al Jazeera America — the arm of the media giant technically responsible for the report — is closing up shop gives them a step up in narrowing their investigative leads. That they carry no formal investigative powers over anyone involved in the accusations (other than Manning) further restricts their scope. The remaining evidence — recanted testimonies and dated, if any, paperwork — will make it all-too-easy for Goodell to stand tall and praise his investigation team for not overstepping their grounds and treating Manning like a guilty man before the investigation was complete before announcing that the NFL has not found sufficient credible evidence confirming the claims published in the Al Jazeera report.
Meanwhile, the MLB/USADA will grind it out for a few months and, well after Manning is good and retired, will announce positive links between the claims the NFL players mentioned. It will petition the NFL to look further into the issue, which the league will not, citing its own independent investigation as adequate. And, regarding Brady, though I don’t agree with his timeline hopes, Boston.Com’s own Rich Levine seems to have put it best,
These days healthy and crazy pretty much go hand and hand with Brady, and that’s because of his relationship with trainer Alex Guerrero — who will at some point get Brady into trouble. That’s just a fact. And for everyone’s sake let’s hope it doesn’t happen until his playing days are over. But it will happen. Guerrero’s up to no good. I’ll be shocked if Alex Guerrero’s even his real name.