Are Harrison and other players pawns in a larger game between NFL and NFLPA?

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This is becoming a game of chicken, this battle between four NFL players (Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Clay Matthews and of course,. the Steelers’ James Harrison) – and Roger Goodell’s NFL.

Simply stated, Roger Goodell is requiring – under threat of suspension – that these four NFL players submit to questioning over a story accusing them of taking illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDS).

The catch? This story was recanted by it’s writer quickly after it was published. This would have seemingly ended the conversation. But Roger Goodell is still requiring those four players submit to questioning. And Harrison, on advice from the NFLPA and due to his own desires, is refusing to do so.

So, why not just submit to questioning? What’s the harm in doing so?

Well,  the potential harm is real:

First, as Harrison stated, it sets an awful precedent. Any accusation, whether unfounded or not (as this current one was recanted), would be free game then for the NFL to pursue action against the player in question. Any writer with a story to tell – or an agenda – can jeopardize a career without having to even prove their story. Just by a simple accusation. Again – remember – the basis for this interrogation request is from a story the writer literally took back. Admitted was wrong. Yet the NFL doesn’t care. It is seemingly leveraging itself to gain an even greater,  unprecedented amount of leeway in it’s ability to interrogate and punish players without any limits or oversight.  That’s a big issue not just for Harrison, but for all NFL players.

Secondly, as attroney Jay Reisinger pointed out – any legal proceeding opens the possibility of other issues arising and any slip of the tongue occurring. Any interrogation can bring up other matters and statements  that the NFL could deem an “untruth”, subjecting Harrison to discipline under their personal conduct rules for any negative assessment they make of the veracity of any statement he makes. In other words, if they think they catch him saying something untrue during the interrogation, it gives them a “gotcha moment” they can use to suspend him.

So, the questions become:

  • What can be done short-term if you are James Harrison?
  • What can be done long-term if you are the NFLPA?

Short-term, Harrison could subject himself to questioning, which may satisfy Goodell’s interests here enough to make the whole issue go away. But that sets the precedent mentioned above that would make for a very unpleasant situation for the NFLPA moving forward. It would find it even harder to protect it’s players. The other answer is that Harrison can continue to refuse to be questioned. That would lead to a suspension – unless the NFLPA can find a legal means to stave off the request. Delay until the end of the season, when Harrison will likely retire anyway and can walk away from the issue entirely.

Long-term, the NFLPA has some hard decisions. The CBA is up in 2018 – which is why this is so critical now, and why many think this situation is more about the CBA than it is about these four players. This all could very well just be posturing. Goodell looking to leverage and broaden the conduct policy so he has precendece for even further control over player discipline.

Sadly, Harrison, Neal, Matthews and Peppers are caught in the middle. Pawns in a power game between the NFLPA, who is advising them not to speak to Goodell, and the NFL, who is seeking more power. What is sad is that the position is brutally unfair. The players either hurt their teams by refusing to speak and being suspended, or they hurt all players by allowing the NFL to create a precedent that will further diminish players’ abilities to protect themselves from what what they feel are unfair NFL discplinary actions and procedures.

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