By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Last year around this time, NFL employees were busy drumming up a "cheating scandal" by releasing false PSI numbers that made the New England Patriots and Tom Brady look very guilty for creating a scheme to deflate footballs in the AFC Championship Game. Thanks in very large part to that false information leaked by the NFL office, mass hysteria surrounded the Patriots for the full two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.
Despite all the 24/7 coverage on TV and online last year -- coverage which kept the NFL in the national spotlight leading up to the league's biggest event of the year, and coverage which came at the expense of the reputation of one the most popular and accomplished players in football history -- the NFL is apparently not quite as interested in repeating its behavior this year.
According to ESPN's T.J. Quinn, Major League Baseball has joined forces with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to investigate the claims made by Al Jazeera last month about certain players receiving drugs. MLB is involved because Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman were named in the report.
The NFL, according to Quinn, has declined to join their endeavor.
"Two lawyers familiar with the MLB/USADA investigation said the NFL declined to coordinate with the other two organizations," Quinn reported. "The NFL has begun its own, mostly separate, investigation, although investigators in the two parallel efforts have communicated."
Quinn did not use the word "independent," and that was likely no mistake. The trumpeting of the "independence" of Ted Wells in his investigation was a great point of pride for commissioner Roger Goodell last year. That was, until Brady held his appeal hearing, at which point Wells cited attorney-client privilege in keeping all of his communications with the NFL a secret. Later, in Judge Richard Berman's federal courtroom, the NFL admitted that it was never important for Wells to be independent. In Berman's written ruling, which vacated the suspension imposed upon Brady, the judge placed quotes around the word "independent." He also described the investigation as "supposedly independent."
In the case of the Al Jazeera report, which claimed HGH was shipped to Peyton Manning's house under his wife's name, Quinn explained the benefits for both the USADA and MLB for joining forces, assets which the NFL has chosen to forego.
"The partnership offers obvious benefits for both MLB and USADA. MLB gets USADA's institutional knowledge of the doping world, along with the quasi-governmental agency's extensive contacts with law enforcement," Quinn wrote. "USADA gets to participate in an investigation that involves the nation's most powerful sports leagues, neither of which is under its jurisdiction."
Curiously, the worst accusation Goodell and the NFL could make on the issue of letting air out of footballs was that it was on par with taking performance-enhancing drugs; hence, the four-game suspension for Brady. Leaving out Judge Berman's incredulity that such a comparison could be made, the message from the NFL was clear: taking PEDs is a gross violation of the rules and a direct threat to the integrity of the game, and so punishment for that offense and any similar offense must be pursued at all costs. The integrity of the game, after all, was at stake.
Yet the NFL has been mighty quiet since Al Jazeera named Manning as an athlete to have human growth hormone shipped to his house, under his wife's name, back in 2011, when the quarterback was recovering from neck surgeries.
Manning vehemently denied ever taking the drugs, though he never said the drugs were never shipped to his house.
"It makes me sick that it brings Ashley into it, her medical history, her medical privacy being violated," Manning told ESPN after the Al Jazeera story broke. "That makes me sick. I don't understand that."
It's a huge story -- the NFL's golden child caught up in a PED ring, along with Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and James Harrison, among others -- and if the headline came across news tickers that the NFL was joining MLB and the USADA in a joint investigation into the claims, it would no doubt find its way onto all of those national news programs which were convinced a year ago that air pressure being low in footballs constituted a cheating scandal.
The NFL has proven that if it wants such headlines to dominate the national news cycle, the league and the commissioner can make it happen in a flash. Yet from the very start, the NFL and its media entities have followed the Manning story in a significantly different fashion than they did the story about air pressure, and it looks as though the league would like nothing more than to have everyone in the country overlook this story as Manning readies for the Super Bowl.
for more features.