GREEN BAY - The National Football League has given Green Bay Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers an ultimatum: talk with its investigators before Aug. 26 or be suspended.
After seeking for months to interview the two -- along with former Packers linebacker Mike Neal and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison -- regarding an Al Jazeera investigative report in December linking them to performance-enhancing drugs, the NFL decided to step up pressure by issuing a deadline.
NFL senior vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch sent a letter to the NFL Players Association setting a deadline for Matthews, Peppers, Neal and Harrison to meet with investigators and answer questions about an alleged connection to an anti-aging clinic that supposedly provided them with banned substances.
In the news report, all three Packers were named as having ties to an intern at the Guyer Institute named Charlie Sly, who claimed he had spent six weeks in Green Bay and had been introduced to half the team through Neal. The three vehemently denied any connection to Sly and Sly later recanted his story, saying, “there is no truth to any statement of mine.”
Still, the NFL has pursued an investigation into the alleged drug use, starting with retired quarterback Peyton Manning, who was accused of receiving shipments of HGH. Manning was recently cleared of any wrongdoing after agreeing to interview with and open his records to investigators. The NFL has been pressuring the NFLPA to make the rest of the players available since the spring, but this is the first time it has threatened discipline at the hands of commissioner Roger Goodell.
“The Commissioner has directed that Messrs. Harrison, Matthews, Neal and Peppers be given until Thursday, August 25 to provide interviews,” the letter, obtained Monday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and PackersNews.com, informed the players.
“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.”
At the urging of the NFL Players Association, all four players have refused to submit to an interview, choosing instead to send signed statements to investigators stating what they knew, if anything, about the claims made against them. The NFL has rejected those statements, saying the statements were "devoid of any detail" and that Neal submitted an assertion that was "demonstrably false," proving full cooperation was necessary.
The NFL was referring to Neal having to re-submit his statement because it failed to mention he had been suspended for a violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy.
The Al Jazeera report claimed Matthews was provided the painkiller Percocet and Toradol, as well as hormone-boosting drugs and that Peppers had received a drug that masks the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Matthews and Peppers said again at the start of training camp that they were not involved with the clinic and didn’t know who Sly was. The league had wanted to interview them then, but the pair said they were leaving it in the union’s hand whether to conduct an interview with NFL investigators.
“I spoke on it once already when it first was reported,” Peppers said of his denial. “I stand by those statements, and anything other than that, I really don’t have anything to add, other than the PA is handling it from that standpoint.”
Matthews said there was nothing more that he could tell the league than that the report about him is untrue.
“I have no idea,” he said of what else he would add. “We asked the same questions. It’s annoying, there’s no doubt about that. It sets a dangerous precedent, but at the same time, I get it, they have a job to do. But now I’m — and some of these other guys — are in kind of in a whirlwind of controversy.”
Neal wasn’t re-signed by the Packers after last season and remains a free agent. He has also refused to speak to investigators.
Sly named all four NFL players, as well as major league baseball players Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman while secretly being recorded by Liam Collins, a former British hurdler who was reporting undercover for Al Jazeera. Howard and Zimmerman sued Al Jazeera over the report and Manning threatened to do so.
The league said the suspension for the active players would begin on Aug. 26, which means Matthews and Peppers would be barred from playing in the team’s third exhibition game against the San Francisco 49ers. Their suspension would continue indefinitely until they spoke to investigators, which means they would be out of action completely until the matter was resolved.
If the NFL did suspend the players, it’s likely the NFLPA would file a lawsuit claiming that the league had overstepped its bounds in forcing the players to submit to interrogation and asking for an injunction to stay the suspensions. It followed a similar course in the Deflategate investigation into New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
The NFLPA did not respond to a request for comment on the NFL's ultimatum.
In late June, the NFLPA released a statement that said, ““The NFL has chosen to initiate an investigation of these players based upon now-recanted statements that appeared in an Al Jazeera report. The NFLPA requested from the NFL any additional evidence supporting an investigation of the players; the NFL did not provide any such evidence, nor did they inform the NFLPA or the players that any such evidence exists.
“Instead, the NFL has decided to publicly pressure the players into submission. We will continue to advise our players about their rights and hold the NFL accountable.”