It never rains but pours for Roger Goodell.
The NFL season has yet to begin though the fun continues for the power hungry commissioner who is forever fighting fires.
The furore caused by a controversial report into performance enhancing drug abuse in baseball and American football by the now defunct Al Jazeera America is raging and beginning to once again resemble another poorly dealt with situation by the suits who run America’s No1 sport.
While the MLB have acted decisively by exonerating Ryan Howard of the Phillies and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman from anything untoward [both are suing Al Jazeera], the NFL have dragged their knuckles in public.
And, just like the mess caused by Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady et al, it’s causing further divisions between the players and their all powerful bosses in New York.
The four under question – Green Bay’s Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Mike Neal, formerly of the Packers but now without a club – have been refusing to speak to the NFL since the story broke last year.
Their legal counsel, and the NFL Players Association [NFLPA], maintained there is no evidence to support the claims launched in the documentary. Suspension threats have been thrown around. They have finally relented and will meet investigators in the next few days.
There has been a severe breakdown in trust between the union and Goodell, which is manifesting itself here.
“Somebody could say James Harrison is a paedophile. Are they going to suspend me, put me under investigation for being a paedophile just because somebody said it?” argued Harrison who also branded Goodell a “crook”.
No-one has backed up the claims made by Al Jazeera. Their main target, Peyton Manning, has been fully cleared. Charles Sly, a pharmacist who was filmed dishing the dirt on a hidden camera, has since denied everything.
The player’s position is understandable. They feel they are being hung out to dry while adhering to the drug policy.
Lane Johnson's agent, Ken Sarnoff, with statement on NFLPA and leak of failed drug test: pic.twitter.com/AoFeLTjuJO— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) August 13, 2016
Following a 2014 season littered with domestic violence, the NFL launched its own investigative department. They can’t throw legal weight around but making an example of Tom Brady for refusing to co-operate in ‘Deflategate’ sent out a message.
But if they want change with the way the League and its commissioner do business, it would have been monumental for them to stand their ground, even if there are six years until the next collective bargaining agreement talks.
The NFL maintain they are just doing their jobs, especially in this age of systematic doping problems in sport, and has told the union there’s evidence beyond just what’s been reported publicly.
Whatever the outcome, this should have been ended sooner. Deflategate went on too long.
Yet Goodell, ever the confrontational supremo, retains full support in the large majority of boardrooms up and down the country. The NFL wants the revenue monster to spew out $25 billion by 2027. Last year it was $13bn, up from $8.5bn in 2010.
Owners, on the whole, like him. It’s the players and their union who continue to wage battle after battle.
Goodell is more interested in dollar bills than concussed linebackers. And therein lies the problem.
Goodell, celebrating a decade in charge later this month, is pushing voraciously for more franchises and more games. He has wanted 18-game seasons for years.
Establishing even stronger links with London is also on the ‘to-do list’ and would be a key driver in boosting revenue streams.
Naturally, the players are against more games. How much more can their battered bodies take, even if the League coffers would benefit?
The impasse is striking at the heart of the NFL – and player power is taking an almighty hit.
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