Peyton Manning Welcomes HGH Investigation, But Not Before His Team Completed Its Own
By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- As Peyton Manning faces the masses before what could be his last NFL game in Super Bowl 50, does he deserve to get peppered with questions about human growth hormone, Al Jazeera, the Guyer Institute in Indianapolis, or any other part of the predictably under-reported HGH allegations against his wife Ashley that heavily implicated him? A full-on bombardment may not be necessary, considering the lack of hard evidence - but questions remain about the allegations that ought to be answered rather than buried.
One of the questions that needed to be asked of Manning is whether he would allow the NFL to investigate the report. Al Jazeera has not backed off the story, saying it confirmed its report on Ashley Manning through a "reliable" and "well-placed" second source after Charlie Sly, the former Guyer Institute employee who named Manning and several other pro athletes in the investigative documentary "The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers," recanted his statements after discovering he was being secretly recorded.
Manning was asked that question, and he continued to strongly dismiss the allegations and condemn Al Jazeera's reporting.
"Absolutely," Manning said when asked if would allow an investigation from the NFL. "As far as I know, that's going to start after the season as far as my role, and I welcome that investigation. And I understand when an allegation is made, that the NFL has no choice to investigate it. I get that, but I can tell you what they're going to find: a big fat nothing. It's been completely fabricated as far as the allegations of what they suggested that I did. It's been nothing but pure junk, and I welcome that investigation. So I think that will start right after the season."
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Al Jazeera America has noted, albeit disingenuously, that the allegations are against Ashley Manning, not Peyton - but the documentary carried a clear, strong implication that the HGH shipments were meant for Peyton, as Sly originally said. However, they never made any direct allegations against Peyton himself. That hasn't stopped him from maintaining his vehement denial or confidently embracing the idea of an NFL investigation.
However, Peyton never mentioned the fact that his own legal team conducted an investigation of their own - at the Guyer Institute.
A recent report by MMQB's Emily Kaplan revealed that the Guyer Institute in Indianapolis, the epicenter of the bombshell allegations against the Mannings, welcomed a "team of investigators" - Manning's agent Tom Condon assembled the team, which included former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, whom Manning hired for crisis management purposes. The team reportedly went through the Mannings' medical records at the clinic; the MMQB report concludes that "it is unclear what they found."
Obviously, any competent legal team would comb through everything they could get their hands on before deciding on a strategy. Manning's team has a right to do their due diligence. But, for a man who has emphatically declared his innocence, not yet confirmed whether he plans to sue Al Jazeera, and remains one of the most (understandably) well-liked and respected athletes to the general public, Manning's approach has been curiously aggressive.
Cynics may point to the mysterious "team of investigators" and read "what they found" as "what they found and destroyed." They may conjure images of a scene in Breaking Bad in which Walter White uses a giant magnet to erase digital records from outside a police station. The mysterious "investigation" by Manning's team mirrors the stories of destroyed videotapes in the Patriots' Spygate scandal and Tom Brady's destroyed cell phone in DeflateGate.
The obvious difference between the potential smoking guns in those stories and Manning's? Few reporters seem willing to sniff this one out.
MMQB's report mentions the NFL's investigation of Manning that the league said is "ongoing and comprehensive," but also that their lack of subpoena power with outside entities like Ashley Manning and the Guyer Institute could leave them empty-handed in terms of evidence. It details the reports that the NFL declined to work with Major League Baseball and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in the investigation, which league spokesman Brian McCarthy disputed in a public spat on Twitter with ESPN Outside the Lines investigative reporter T.J. Quinn, and Sly's disappearance from the public eye since recanting his original comments. The NFL has yet to make any other public comments on their own investigation - a sharp contrast to their very public "independent investigation" one year ago.
Despite the many remaining questions surrounding Manning, there is no hard evidence (so far) that he ever used HGH, and, considering that testing for it only began in 2014, it may not exist, even if he did it. There is still no proof of Ashley Manning receiving shipments of HGH to her home, either. Manning deserves to be considered innocent until proven guilty - but it's also fair to ask questions about the holes that remain in this story. Manning's team has no obligation at this time to detail whatever they did when they went to the Guyer Institute - but as long as the details are scant, the question marks will be abundant.
If Manning has been lying about his alleged HGH use, the world may never find out. If he's been telling the truth, he sure has taken an aggressive approach to maintaining his innocence. It ultimately does not matter whether Manning used HGH, which is widely believed to be commonplace among players across the league and should not affect his legacy. But what matters now is whether he's been honest about it. If Manning is found to have been lying, the major hit would come to the one thing he values above all else: his reputation.
Manning may be right that the NFL would find a "big fat nothing," and that could very well be the truth. But, in light of the curiously clandestine behavior by the NFL and Manning's camp in the wake of the Al Jazeera report, it's hard for skeptics not to raise an eyebrow. Is Manning so steadfast in his denial because the problem never existed, or that the problem has been eliminated? It's far too early to definitively judge what Manning did or didn't do at the Guyer Institute in 2011, but it's not too early to stop asking questions, either.
The truth may never be known. But whatever it turns out to be, Manning has put his reputation and legacy on the line, and he is unflinchingly confident that it will remain intact.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.
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