X

James Harrison, Clay Matthews, More to Be Suspended If They Don't Meet with NFL

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist

GREEN BAY - OCTOBER 02: Julius Peppers #56 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates a touchdown with Clay Matthews #52 following an interception during an NFL game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, October 2, 2014 in Green Bay Wisconsin.  (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

Four players named in an Al Jazeera documentary on sports doping could potentially face a suspension if they fail to set up an interview with the NFL regarding the allegations by Aug. 25, per USA Today's Tom Pelissero.

Pelissero obtained a copy of a letter that league executive Adolpho Birch sent to the NFL Players Association on Monday. The letter named free-agent linebacker Mike Neal and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison as well as Green Bay Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers as the players the NFL wants to question.

The NFL asserted it could suspend the players for conduct detrimental to the league if they decline to be interviewed:

We cannot accept your unilateral assertion that the cursory, untested statements you have submitted satisfy the players' obligation. Accordingly, the Commissioner has directed that Messrs. Harrison, Matthews, Neal and Peppers be given until Thursday, August 25 to provide interviews. For those players whose interviews do not take place on or before that date, or who fail meaningfully to participate in or otherwise obstruct the interview, their actions will constitute conduct detrimental and they will be suspended, separate and apart from any possible future determination that they violated the steroid policy. The suspension for each such player will begin on Friday, August 26 and will continue until he has fully participated in an interview with league investigators, after which the Commissioner will determine whether and when the suspension should be lifted.

In the letter, the league said it has tried to arrange interviews with the four on seven occasions but has been unable to do so. In response, the NFLPA has given the league prepared statements for the players, which the NFL is using as sworn statements.

The NFL argued Neal's statement, in particular, was troublesome:

The statements, however, are wholly devoid of any detail, and we were quickly able to determine that Mr. Neal's statement includes an assertion that is demonstrably false. Rather than eliminate the need for interviews, the players' plainly deficient statements simply underscore the importance of obtaining their full cooperation.

On Tuesday, the NFLPA was "figuring out how accused players want to move forward", according to Pelissero, who added that while the players have always controlled the final decision, the suspension threat "raises the stakes." 

CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora spoke to Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, who said his client has "never denied an attempt for an interview." Parise added the NFLPA told the four players not to agree to any interviews at this stage and that the union would be taking care of things on their behalf, per La Canfora.

Harrison spoke about a potential meeting following Tuesday's practice, courtesy of ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler:

"I don't have a problem doing the interview. Come to my house. Bring Roger (Goodell) with you," Harrison said.

[...]

When asked why not get the interview over with, Harrison was blunt in his response.

"If that's the case, then somebody could come out and say James Harrison is a pedophile," Harrison said. "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."

“That has nothing to do with us,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said, per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “That is between him, the PA and the league. I assume that he is going to do what he has to do.”

Peyton Manning was the biggest name connected to Al Jazeera's report in December, which relied on statements from Charlie Sly, who worked as an intern at the Guyer Institute of Molecular Medicine in Indianapolis. Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard were also implicated, along with Matthews, Neal, Peppers and Harrison.

Matthews, Peppers and Harrison were all vehement regarding their innocence.

"He has never supplied me with anything," Harrison said of Sly, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Dec. 27. "I never took steroids—point, blank, period, end of discussion."

Peppers called the claims "erroneous," per Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on June 24, adding: "It's not true. It's completely erroneous, and I think it's irresponsible journalism, in my opinion. I'm subject to the same steroid and drug-testing policy as everybody else. So I don't understand how I could be linked to something like this."

Matthews was similarly dismissive, per Wood:

I think it's (expletive) to be completely honest with you. It's 100 percent falsified, fabricated information. I don't who this guy is. I couldn't tell you what he looks like. I've never talked with him. I've never communicated with him. So for him to bring my name up like that, which appears to be out of thin air, it's (expletive) for a lack of a better term.

Sly later recanted the accusations he made in Al Jazeera's documentary.

Pelissero first reported in June the NFL planned to interview Matthews, Neal, Peppers and Harrison based on the report and Sly's allegations. The league informed the quartet it had begun an investigation in January to examine the claims.

Pelissero noted Monday that if the league pursues punishment for the players for detrimental conduct, the repercussions would be separate from any retroactive action the NFL could take with regard to potential violations of the performance-enhancing-drug policy.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.