The NFL just challenged the NFLPA over Al Jazeera case

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The NFL is begging the NFLPA to fight back over the Al Jazeera case.

The NFL said if Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Green Bay Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, and free-agent defensive lineman Mike Neal — the four active players publicly accused in an Al Jazeera America report last year of using performance-enhancing drugs — don’t interview with the league by Aug. 25, the NFL will suspend them indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the league. That’s according to multiple reports, including Pro Football Talk, which published the NFL’s letter to the union outlining the many times they have been stonewalled on their interview requests.

Now it gets interesting.

The NFLPA seems to have long ago understood this is how the situation would play out, from the moment it sent the NFL an affidavit on Harrison’s behalf, in which Harrison said he has never taken any PEDs and his affidavit would be his only statement to the NFL on the matter. The other players also sent affidavits, via the NFLPA. The NFL rejected them.

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The implied message with that seemed to be the players would not let NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have his way in this case. This wouldn’t be like the Tom Brady/deflate-gate fiasco. Goodell has to feel emboldened by the court rulings in his favor in the Brady and Adrian Peterson cases. The union has to feel like it needs something to rally around if it ever wants to battle back over the broad powers Goodell has under Article 46 of the collective-bargaining agreement.

This may be be the case.

The league doesn’t have any evidence of these players’ drug use, and probably wouldn’t even if the players agreed to talk. That’s what makes the players’ stance on not being interviewed by the NFL so interesting. If the players told the NFL that Charlie Sly, the pharmacist in the Al Jazeera report who named those players on hidden camera, was lying and they knew nothing about his claims, what grounds would the NFL have to suspend them? A fairly unspecific allegation from someone who has recanted everything he said on hidden camera, that’s all. No failed tests. Presumably no other documentation. Almost assuredly no cooperation from Sly. Just some of his words on a hidden camera, unless the NFL has a lot more evidence than we know about. Put aside for a moment that the NFL didn’t have any evidence in the Brady case either, but suspended him anyway. In this case, all the accused players would have to do is maintain innocence and the NFL would have very little reason to suspend any of them. So there has to be a bigger reason they sent those affidavits and indicated they wouldn’t speak to the league.

Brady wasn’t the right case for the union to rally its members. The “Patriots are cheaters!” narrative infected everyone, including some players, before it became very clear that case had little to do with deflated footballs and everything to do with Goodell making sure all players knew he has absolute power over them. Also, Brady is a multi-millionaire international celebrity who has a supermodel wife and lives in a ridiculous mansion. He’s an all-time great competitor but it would seem Harrison might be easier for a majority of players to relate to, as an undrafted workaholic who became an NFL defensive player of the year.

And if Harrison (and Matthews, Peppers and Neal) can be suspended with no evidence, no failed test, just the word of one guy who won’t even stand by his statement, then they can all be treated that way too. It has to be a scary thought. All of them should be able to relate to Harrison, Peppers, Matthews and Neal if they think about it in those terms.

Harrison would seem to be the perfect player to go to war with the union against the NFL. He has blasted Goodell long before the Al Jazeera report and already seemed to be getting ready for a battle when he posted his list of stipulations for an interview on Instagram. That he was the first to send an affidavit to the NFL, via the union, was no surprise. Brady isn’t the kind of person who will angrily fight the commissioner of the NFL in a public setting. I think Harrison might embrace that battle. So now we’ll see what the accused players do. They could all just decide to meet with the NFL, because an indefinite suspension is pretty serious, especially when it would be easy to just talk, admit to nothing and presumably be in the clear.

But if the NFLPA wants to rally its troops around an issue that many of them should see as unfair, this might be the time.

James Harrison (AP)
James Harrison (AP)

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!