Sources: Three players to meet with NFL on reported steroid allegations

ByChris Mortensen ESPN logo
Friday, August 19, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrisonhasagreed to meet with NFL investigators as demanded by the league, which threatened suspension if the players fail to do so regarding steroid allegations stemming from an Al-Jazeera report in January.

Green Bay Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, who were also named in the report, have also agreed to meet, sources told ESPN. But free-agent linebacker Mike Neal, who also was threatened with a suspension, has not yet agreed to meet with the league, the sources said.

Harrison has agreed to meet Aug. 30 at the team facility, per a letter sent by the NFL Players Association to the NFL, which was acquired by ESPN. He has set forth conditions limiting questions to only the segment cited in the Al-Jazeera report in which he was identified. It is unknown whether the league will accept these conditions, and a league official had no immediate comment.

Matthews and Peppers' interviews are expected to take place at the Packers' team facility on Wednesday, in advance of the league's Aug. 25 deadline, a source told ESPN's Dan Graziano. The NFLPA remains in support and in an advisory capacity and sent similar letters on behalf of both Matthews and Peppers, the source told Graziano. Those players could not be reached immediately for comment.

Harrison was asked after Friday's Eagles-Steelers preseason game why he decided to go ahead with the interview.

"The bigger outcome wasn't really worth it," he said. "I wouldn't be on the team. It would hurt the team. It would hurt my teammates, coaches. So, it was easier just to do the interview, I guess."

Harrison added that he made the decision on his own, and not at the behest of the Steelers.

The league had warned the players in a letter they would be suspended by Aug. 26 if they did not agree to meet with investigators.

"For those players whose interviews do not take place on or before [Aug. 25], 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," NFL vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch wrote. "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 a letter dated Aug. 18 responding to Birch on behalf of Harrison, NFLPA Associate General Counsel Heather M. McPhee wrote:

"Your most recent letter, distributed to the media before providing to Mr. Harrison via the NFLPA, confirmed Mr. Harrison's understanding that, rather than act with the integrity, respect, and thoughtful diligence that an employer such as the NFL should, the League has instead decided to try to bully and publicly "shame" a veteran player-employee who has repeatedly asked a simple, eminently reasonable question about his employer's investigation:

"Is the NFL aware of any credible evidence - other than the recanted remarks by one individual shown by Al-Jazeera - that indicates that there is any validity to the remarks about Mr. Harrison?"

Earlier, the NFLPA had issued statements to the league on behalf of the players. But Birch wrote in his letter that the NFL considered them "wholly devoid of any detail."

The players have an obligation to "submit to an interview but also the duty to provide meaningful responses to the questions posed," Birch wrote.

And McPhee wrote in response that "Harrison has decided that he will act as the more professional entity in this situation," and "will make himself available ... to answer NFL's investigators' questions about the only remarks about him in the Al-Jazeera report."

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