PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison is willing to meet with the NFL to discuss an alleged link to performance-enhancing drugs — but only five days after a deadline the league has imposed while threatening him and three other players with indefinite suspensions.
NFL Players Association attorney Heather McPhee sent a letter to the NFL on Thursday, accusing it of trying to “bully and publicly shame” Harrison without offering evidence beyond a brief mention in television interview last year that was recanted by the accuser.
“When it came down to it, (if) I got the suspension, the bigger outcome wasn’t really worth it,” Harrison said after the Steelers’ 17-0 home exhibition loss to Philadelphia on Thursday night. “I wouldn’t be on the team, it would hurt the team, it would hurt my teammates and coaches, so it was easier to do the interview.”
Green Bay’s Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, and free-agent Mike Neal also were threatened with suspensions. It was not immediately known if a similar meeting was being proposed by the union.
“I’m just glad the process is moving forward,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said after the Packers’ 20-12 home victory over Oakland on Thursday night. “As already has been stated, as an organization, we support Clay and Julius. And we’re looking to get this resolved as soon as possible.”
The league’s deadline for cooperation from the four players is Aug. 25. McPhee’s letter says Harrison would meet with the NFL at 5 p.m. on Aug. 30 at the team’s facility, and would only discuss the portion of the Al-Jazeera interview that mentioned the 14-year veteran.
In the report, Charlie Sly, who worked as an intern at an anti-aging clinic, made claims of PED use against several athletes, including the four linebackers. Sly later recanted his claims.
“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?” McPhee wrote to Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president for labor policy and league affairs.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league has yet to respond to the letter.
Retired quarterback Peyton Manning also was cited in the report, but the NFL cleared him after a separate investigation in which the former Indianapolis and Denver star granted interviews and provided all records sought by league investigators.
Harrison is a longtime leader for the Steelers. Matthews and Peppers are key cogs in the Packers’ defense, and Neal spent the past six seasons with Green Bay.
Harrison said he assumes the meeting will take place in Pittsburgh, but he said he wasn’t sure about the date. Harrison added the team didn’t approach him about his decision.
“They’re asking me about PEDs, so ask away,” Harrison said. “You can ask me about PEDs. I never took a PED in my life and I never failed a drug test. It’s simple. Whatever evidence they think they may have or reasoning for questioning is out of my control.”
Harrison said he wouldn’t have a problem with filming the proceedings.
“I’ve been prosecuted and persecuted publicly in the media by them for something I didn’t do, so I don’t see why we couldn’t have the media there to do a live interview,” Harrison said. “They can ask me questions and I can answer them and y’all can see whatever evidence they say they’ve got or don’t have.”
Harrison isn’t sure what to expect from the interview.
“I answered all the questions that were in the Al-Jazeera that were in my affidavit, so I have no clue,” Harrison said.
The NFL first notified the four players Jan. 11 about the investigation into the Al-Jazeera report.
Birch’s memo to the union said suspensions would start the day after the Aug. 25 deadline, and would end at the discretion of Commissioner Roger Goodell once interviews had been completed.
The four players have steadfastly refused to be interviewed without what they call credible evidence. Earlier this week, Harrison reiterated that he would be willing to meet at his house with Goodell.
Affidavits were sent by the NFLPA on behalf of the players to substitute for the interviews, but Birch dismissed them as inadequate.
“Despite the NFL’s embarrassing refusal to thoughtfully consider the fair question and viewpoint of a man who has performed his job in a public arena at the highest level for over fifteen years, Mr. Harrison has decided that he will act as the more professional entity in this situation,” McPhee wrote before adding that Harrison would make himself available.
Goodell’s power to punish players has been a contentious issue between the NFL and the union in recent years, highlighted by the “Deflategate” case against the Patriots that resulted in a four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady case and that of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who went to court to fight his suspension over allegations of child abuse.
“He can do whatever he wants,” Harrison said about Goodell. “That’s just the collective bargaining agreement that the players signed. That’s why the Steelers voted no.”
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