WASHINGTON — The NFL offseason didn’t go quietly, and it appears the preseason will be much of the same.
Between the lingering Al Jazeera report of players taking performance-enhancing drugs, the league’s demands that the players named in the report responded or be suspended, and the issue of marijuana testing, the NFL is constantly in the news for things happening off the field.
On Wednesday, Executive Director of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith dropped by the 106.7 The Fan studios to address each of those issues and more with the Sports Junkies. The biggest takeaway from the conversation was his thoughts on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s tenure, and how he feels the Al Jazeera controversy is typical of Goodell’s regime.
“On the Al Jazeera thing, look, this is just what the job is now,” Smith said. “The relationship between the union and the league is antagonistic, it typically is unnecessarily so, but I’ve become resigned to the fact that this is what the job is. They have the things that they want to do, we represent the players, we make no apologies for protecting our guys and doing our best to protect our guys. With respect to this investigation, it’s like anything else. If the players ultimately want to talk to the league about it, that’s their choice. The union’s position is you have a story that is based around limited statements by a guy who ultimately recanted, and they want to do a full-blown investigation. Look, if there would have been the same amount of allegations with respect to anything that the owners have done in the past, my guess is they probably wouldn’t be doing this investigation.”
Smith believes the league handles personal conduct cases among players very differently than it handles similar issues with the owners of the teams.
“Look at the Jim Irsay situation. The guy gets pulled over with basically a trash bag full of pills. And a week before that, a woman overdoses to death at his house. There was no investigation of that, yet we are going to move heaven and earth and have an investigation on a guy named Charlie Sly — that’s ironic — who ultimately recants. For me, this is just the process of what the job is, and the role of the union is to protect the player.”
He does not know if the players will give the interviews requested of them, but he understands why the players are considering refusing.
“I think that the guys have to make a decision on what they want to do,” he said. “I think they are rightly upset that the league would credit the recanted statements of some guy.”
“This is ultimately just Roger flexing his muscles,” host Eric Bickel said. “Because he’s feeling a little empowered, maybe because he won the [Tom] Brady decision, and just kind of sticking his finger in it and saying, ‘Hey, I can do whatever I want.'”
“I’ve become convinced that is what the job is under that regime,” Smith said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with Brady. Years ago, when I first met you guys, we were dealing with Bounty[gate]. … This is the regime, right? To have a full-blown investigation that basically was triggered by an email that some dude sent from jail, the league turned that into the biggest witch hunt on the planet. Ultimately, the former commissioner overturned it. But I just think that’s the regime now with the National Football League. And I think it’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”
“Roger has the power, if he wants, he can bring anybody in and threaten a suspension over anything now?” Bickel asked. “Is that what he’s asserting, that the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for this?”
“I think he’s always believed that,” came Smith’s response.
“That he can do whatever he wants?”
“When I say that this is what the world is like in this regime, I think that’s exactly what he believes,” Smith said. “Before Roger became the commissioner, we had exactly the same Collective Bargaining Agreement language over personal conduct that we have now. But does anybody remember this going on under Paul Tagliabue?”
The Junkies responded with a collective “no.”
“This definitely wouldn’t happen,” host Jason Bishop said. “No chance.”
“And here’s the flip side,” Smith continued. “Does anybody see — and the language is similar virtually everywhere else — does anybody else see this happening in any one of our other major sports?”
The response was another collective “no.”
Smith also went into detail about how the current Collective Bargaining Agreement was settled upon. He says the issue of the commissioner disciplining players for personal conduct matters was one of the biggest points of contention, and while the players desperately wanted change, the owners for the most part rejected that notion.
He did, however, disclose that New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft was one of the biggest advocates of removing Goodell’s disciplinary power. Of course, Kraft’s star quarterback is suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season.
“Is it just because he’s evil?” Bishop asked, semi-facetiously, about the league commissioner.
“No, he’s not evil. But would anybody believe that it’s in the best interest of the National Football League, and for its fans, to drag out the first half of an AFC Championship Game from two years ago? Who would say that’s good for our game? Nobody.”
As for why the players are offended by the request to cooperate with the investigation, Smith offers one point.
“Think about it for a second,” Smith said. “A guy named Charlie Sly makes an allegation that he recants. Players of the National Football League, where there is no evidence that they’ve done anything wrong, responded to a recanted statement by putting in a affidavit under oath, and the league says, ‘Well that’s not good enough.'”
Smith also discussed the various issues concerning marijuana in the NFL, which can be heard, along with the rest of Smith’s comments, below.