Last December Al Jazeera released a documentary called The Dark Side: The Secrets of Sports Dopers that linked several NFL players to performance enhancing drugs. The most popular player in the report, Peyton Manning, was recently cleared of any wrongdoing by the NFL. This should be somewhat comforting to Green Bay Packers fans because Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers were also linked to PEDs in The Dark Side. Though Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said he has “no reason to be concerned” about Matthews and Peppers, with Roger Goodell running the NFL there is plenty of reason for anxiety.
In 2012 Goodell appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the title “The Enforcer.” We also know from recent history that Goodell loves to bring the hammer down whenever he can. This is why former Packer Anthony Hargrove was suspended during the 2012 season for his “involvement” in the New Orleans Saints‘ “Bountygate” scandal and why Tom Brady is suspended four games for being “generally aware” of footballs that might have been a tad deflated. This is where things get concerning for Matthews and Peppers.
Goodell does not need convincing evidence to suspend players. Hargrove allegedly said “Bobby, give me the money” during the 2009 NFC Title game between the Saints and Minnesota Vikings. Video of this comment – which occurred after Brett Favre took a vicious during the game – was used as evidence against Hargrove. In theory, this proved Hargrove was part of a bounty system that rewarded Saints players if they injured an opponent. Even though the NFL later acknowledged Hargrove did not actually say “Give me the money,” Goodell nevertheless use the video against Hargrove because it proved he was aware of the bounty system.
Deflategate is another instance of Goodell going completely overboard with authority on the tenuous basis of “awareness.” Ignoring that the evidence against Tom Brady is incredibly weak, fines for equipment violations are usually only a few thousand dollars. No matter how much you hate the New England Patriots and loathe any form of cheating, suspending Brady four games for (maybe) deflating footballs is wacky. The punishments doled out to the Saints and Patriots – and the logic behind them – should cause the Packers some anxiety.
Even though the primary source of the Al Jazeera documentary has backtracked quite a bit since the release of the film. and even though Mike McCarthy is not concerned, there is always the possibility the Goodell find a dubious shred of evidence and use it to bludgeon Matthews and Peppers. The NFL has yet to interview the duo, but when that happens is possible Goodell will find evidence of “awareness” to justify a punishment that “sends a message” about PEDs. It’s also possible this will all blow over and no suspensions will occur. However, with Goodell in charge you need to be prepared for anything.