The year-old cloud of suspicion for PED use floating over the head of retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning has somewhat dissipated, as the NFL announced that the all-time great and two-time Super Bowl winner did not use human growth hormone of other drugs considered to be performance enhancing.
Last year, Al-Jazeera America reported that Manning's wife Ashley allegedly received home deliveries of human growth hormone in 2011, which they immediately and profoundly denied.
This entire scenario kicked off last year when Charles Sly, an intern with an Indianapolis area anti-aging clinic, was unknowingly recorded talking smack and suggesting that Mrs. Manning received HGH to assist her husband in his rehabilitation from neck surgery. Sly later told reporters that he was simply talking smack to impress someone he wanted to do business with. However, the cat was out of the proverbial bag and the NFL had to launch a thorough investigation.
Though Manning is in the clear, the Al-Jazeera report also mentioned linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers, former Packers defensive lineman Mike Neal and Steelers linebacker James Harrison. While the Mannings proactively stepped to the forefront to clear Peyton's name, the fact that he retired after the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers gave him the flexibility to do what he felt needed to be done. He had the freedom of doing what he did in the manner that he did it because he wasn't in the league anymore.
The NFL Players Association also issued a statement on Monday following the league's ruling.
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"As a former player, Peyton Manning is free to do whatever he believes is in his best interest," the NFLPA's statement said. "The Union knows that he understands the rights of players under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and would never do anything to hurt or undermine active players in support of those rights."
Reading between the lines, the NFLPA is basically saying they hope Manning didn't throw the others mentioned on the list to the wolves with his actions.
Indeed, the other players on the list are not retired, thus are having their interests lorded over by the NFLPA and the CBA. Though Matthews, Harrison, Neal and Peppers each sent affidavits to the league office, they are now being summoned to meet with NFL security and legal teams.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been known to bang the gavel really hard on individuals who he feels deserve it. Even the once untouchable Patriots QB Tom Brady has felt the wrath. Players who fail to cooperate fully with the investigation will likely feel the full weight of said gavel.
In this day of cynicism and conspiracy theorists, some will readily believe in a cloak-and-dagger scenario that protected Manning and sacrificed others rather than believing he's just innocent of the charges levied against him.
However, the league's desire to further scrutinize the other players on the list does give one cause to pause. Even if only for a second.