(Roger Goodell photo courtesy of NFL)
By Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
Often reviled boxing promoter Don King used to say one of the best things about America was that “catching comes before hanging.’’ Apparently, Roger Goodell isn’t aware of that.
Once there was a time in America where you were innocent until proven guilty. Now it seems, in the portion of America ruled by the NFL’s modern day Judge Roy Bean (aka Roger Goodell), you’re guilty until proven innocent. Recently this approach has been twice court-approved. For NFL players that’s bad news and getting worse.
Earlier this week, the NFL told four players named in a since-discredited Al-Jazeera TV report on performance-enhancing drug use in the NFL that they have until Aug. 26 to submit to questioning and a league-run investigation … or face immediate suspensions.
In China or Russia, that’s how they roll. In the USA, it’s not supposed to be.
An allegation, especially one later recanted by the individual who made it, is not a conviction. It is not even reason enough under any rule of law to begin questioning someone about his actions. Certainly, even if you believe that it should be, refusing to submit to questioning without a single legal charge against you should not cost you your job.
This leads to a logical next question: Have Roger Goodell and vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch lost their minds? Or just their sense of fairness?
Wanting to ask Green Bay Packers’ Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison and free agent Mike Neal a few questions, in and of itself, may not be unwarranted. The league claims to have done so with Peyton Manning, who was also named by Al-Jazeera when it was still in business, and cleared his name.
The league says he was fully cooperative, although we have no way of knowing what that means. He was also fully retired, so there wasn’t a damn thing the NFL could do to him under Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players.
According to Goodell’s interpretation of Article 46 these days, it apparently reads: “As long as I use the words conduct detrimental I can run roughshod over NFL players any time I want.’’
Just as professional athletes long ago lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to PED use, the NFL has lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the idea of fair and just investigations. Say what you will or may about Deflategate, Spygate, Bountygate and ElevatorAssaultgate, the NFL as an investigative body is more suspect and less effective than Congress.
Frankly, so are the players who test positive and then blame CVS or GNC for their troubles. But that has nothing to do with this issue because to the best of anyone’s knowledge the players mentioned never tested positive for anything but a growing distrust of the commissioner’s investigative skills.
Television-fueled suspicion is not enough for someone to face the loss of his livelihood. Should players comply voluntarily to the commissioner’s request for a chat? It would be nice, but they don’t trust him any more. And why should they?
Can they be compelled to do so if a properly run investigation concludes they are a legitimate suspect? Possibly, although under the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution – the USA one, not the NFL one – they’re also to be given due process. But Birch isn’t talking due process. He’s threatening “do it, or we’ll process your retirement papers.’’
Someone needs to remind Mr. Birch that Lincoln freed the slaves.
What this brings my mind is not Tom Brady and Deflategate, but rather the far more vulnerable Anthony Hargrove, an ex-Saints’ defensive lineman who essentially lost his career in 2012 when the NFL pinned much of its Bountygate conclusions on him, claiming he told teammates to “pay me my money” after a hit on Brett Favre.
The only problem was NFL Films proved he didn’t say any such thing.
The NFL later quietly admitted its error, but Anthony Hargrove never played again. Anybody in the NFL offices have a conscience?
The players Al-Jazeera named are innocent until proven guilty and a recanted claim on a TV network now out of business made by a source ironically named Charlie Sly seems the definition of flimsy evidence. So should those players be threatened with losses of their jobs if they refuse to be questioned? And should they cave in and agree to it?
In both cases, let’s hope not.
The “conduct detrimental’’ to the league clause of the CBA is essential, and it should be used by the commissioner when actions that — while perhaps not illegal are still unconscionable — take place. Someone needs to tell Roger Goodell that such actions can be his as well as his players.
Threatening players with loss of work for refusing to answer questions based on a flimsy allegation with no supporting evidence made by a guy who has since recanted them is, in my mind, conduct detrimental to the game. And frankly beneath it.