According to watchers in the media, the National Football League Players Association is behind schedule in completing two investigations that it is pursuing, one involving free agent quarterback Josh Freeman and the other surrounding Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson. While the former probe does not lack the appropriate subject matter, the latter probably does. Both suffer from a lack of effectiveness reminiscent of the Bullygate investigation of the Miami Dolphins by the league.
Last September, the NFLPA launched an inquiry into how and from whom ESPN sourced a report that Freeman – then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signal-caller – was in Stage 1 of the league’s drug treatment program. The correspondent who reported the same was Chris Mortensen, a fellow who has been around the league for many years and has cultivated sources deep within the NFL and its teams.
The unauthorized disclosure of Freeman’s medical history would violate a number of federal and state privacy statutes; league and team rules; and, likely, the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players’ bargaining unit. Everyone from the source of the leak on down to Mortensen would have potential criminal or civil liability for every disclosure and re-disclosure that occurred. This is serious stuff that is not only worthy – but demanding – of an internal investigation.
The DeSean Jackson matter? Not so much.
In that case, the NFLPA announced last month that it was investigating “misinformation” that was provided to NJ.com regarding the wideout’s alleged ties to the Crips street gang in California. Other media outlets simultaneously reported that it was LAPD who had notified Jackson’s then-team, the Philadelphia Eagles, that he had been connected to the group. While such information certainly could be embarrassing to Jackson and costly to him in terms of future contract monies, the dissemination of it – right or wrong – likely violates no law or league or team policy. And it certainly is not the right grist for the internal investigations mill.
Despite the first probe being on solid subject matter ground while the second one isn’t, neither is going anywhere fast or substantive and that is because – like the NFL in the Dolphins’ matter – the union possesses no leverage to compel cooperation. It obviously realized this early on, when it formally asked the league to conduct a joint investigation into the Freeman matter. According to a story at NFL.com:
“According to two union sources, the NFLPA wants a joint investigation for two reasons. First, the union has no power to compel Buccaneers officials to talk, and would like – short of interviewing management itself – to be able to sit in on the interviews to see what questions are being asked. Second, the NFLPA conducted research last week into previous cases of confidentiality breaches and found no evidence of the league having sanctioned a club in such a circumstance, or even having vigorously pursued a case.
Specifically, the union wants to look into the role of Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano in the leaks. Schiano adamantly has denied playing a part in the information becoming public, and a Buccaneers spokesman said Sunday morning that the team won’t address the situation again until, at least, after the team’s home game against the Eagles.
According to a union source, the NFLPA has information indicating that Schiano shared confidential information about Freeman with some of Freeman’s teammates. [Emphasis added]”
No power to compel Buccaneers officials to talk. Exactly. And the same holds true in the Jackson matter, where the union would also have liked some league help.
The NFLPA can surely compel its own members – Freeman’s then-teammates on the Buccaneers and Jackson’s on the Eagles – to talk to its investigators, but only the league and the teams can make the balance of critical witnesses cooperate in joint probes. In these two instances, the NFL, Buccaneers, and Eagles have seemingly declined the union’s solicitation of group efforts and – like in the Bullygate case – the internal investigations that were promised become more sizzle than steak.