FOXBORO – Somehow, 129 years ago over in England, Lord Acton presaged Roger Goodell’s tenure as NFL Commissioner.
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men," Acton said. Acton, if you’re wondering, was from England, future home of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the ever-expanding fiefdom of Goodell and the NFL.
We are learning this week that doom-and-gloom “Watch what happens!” warnings after rulings affirmed Goodell’s power on discipline matters weren’t just worst-case scenarios. The Commissioner has slammed his tank into overdrive and is threatening suspensions for James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal if they don’t speak with the league regarding Al Jazeera’s January story accusing these men and Peyton Manning of using PEDs.
They won’t be bounced for using PEDs. They’ll be bounced for refusing to talk. For “obstructing an NFL investigation.”
Here’s the problem with this little fascist end-around.
The NFL’s PED policy has a passage entitled: “Reasonable Cause Testing For Players With Prior Positive Tests Or Under Other Circumstances” which states in part “Any Player testing positive for a Prohibited Substance, including a Player who tested positive or for whom there is sufficient credible evidence of steroid involvement (can be tested).”
There’s a footnote next to “sufficient credible evidence of steroid involvement” and that footnote lists what the NFL and NFLPA agreed was “sufficient credible evidence.” It states, “As used in this Policy, sufficient credible evidence includes but is not limited to: criminal convictions or plea arrangements; admissions, declarations, affidavits, authenticated witness statements, corroborated law enforcement reports or testimony in legal proceedings; authenticated banking, telephone, medical or pharmaceutical records; or credible information obtained from Players who provided assistance pursuant to Section 10 of the policy.”
The NFL has none of those things. And if it wants to include Al Jazeera’s report in the “not limited to” category, well hell, fellas, you already deemed it not credible in exonerating Peyton Manning. So how can it be sufficiently credible enough to make an exception for now?
As Harrison said Tuesday, “Somebody could come out and say James Harrison is a pedophile. They are going to suspend me, put me under investigation for being a pedophile just because somebody said it? I’m not going to answer questions for every little thing some Tom, Dick and Harry comes up with.”
We’ve all been pseudo legal experts for the past 20 months, but the guy with the best read on the Goodell’s power-mad mindset and his likely success has been …. Harrison.
Last September, just before Judge Berman vacated Brady’s suspension, Harrison predicted Goodell would ultimately win.
“To be honest with you, I don’t see what a federal judge can do with something the players signed in the collective bargaining agreement, which gives Roger Goodell (power) to do what he wants to,” said Harrison. “And if that’s the case and he’s going by the letter of what he says, there’s nothing (a judge) can do.”
When Brady’s suspension was reinstated last month, Harrison chastised his fellow NFL players for voting in favor of the Collective Bargaining Agreement passed in 2011 that gave Goodell the kind of power he now enjoys. The Steelers were the lone NFL team to vote against the CBA (by a 78-6 vote) and Harrison took the lead in arguing against approval precisely because of the power Goodell would have to ride herd on players.
Now he’s in the crosshairs.
On Tuesday, I asked Bears kicker and NFLPA rep Robbie Gould about Goodell’s ever-increasing power and the down-the-road ramifications for all players.
“It’s a tough situation for anyone to have to go through but that’s the league that we live in now,” he said. “It’s tough because that’s the CBA we agreed to as players and that’s what they agreed to as owners so, is it fair? Everyone’s gonna have a different opinion on it. It’s tough to see one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League (Brady) have to go through that. Talk about respecting the logo or respecting the league, I have a lot of respect for what Tom’s done for the National Football League.”
The players agreed to Goodell exercising power within reason, not dispensing his “own brand of industrial justice” which is what Judge Berman ruled Goodell did in Brady’s case. Since he got away with hanging Brady for non-cooperation – despite Brady being told by investigator Ted Wells he didn’t want Brady’s phone, despite Wells’ saying he didn’t want personal communications then court documents showing that the NFL culled personal communications (i.e. the white pool cover), despite Wells saying Brady answered every question and Brady offering testimony under oath at his appeal hearing – Goodell obviously now feels further emboldened.
He can now twist and contort virtually any action to fit it under the “conduct detrimental” umbrella.
Any player refusing to submit to the NFL on bended knee – any player submitting but not doing so in a submissive enough way! – is a marked man. The league made that very clear in its tongue-bath statement exonerating Peyton Manning – cooperate and you won’t be dragged behind the horse and carriage through the middle of town. Resistance is futile.