On Saturday, news broke that an undercover documentary produced by Al Jazeera would report that NFL icon Peyton Manning and his wife, Ashley, had received human growth hormone from the Guyer Institute of Molecular Medicine in Indianapolis when Manning was recovering from major neck surgeries in 2011. Former Guyer employee Charlie Sly said, “All the time we would be sending Ashley Manning drugs. Like growth hormone, all the time, everywhere, Florida. And it would never be under Peyton’s name, it would always be under her name.”
Saturday night, Manning denied the report. On Sunday, the documentary, titled “The Dark Side,” aired. Later the same day, Sly recanted what he’d said in the film.
That seemed to be enough for the NFL media to pretend the story did not exist. Al Jazeera doubled down Monday, reporting it had a second, “impeccably placed, knowledgeable, and credible” source, and yet that did not seem to stir the news cycle. Perhaps some prominent media outlet is investigating the Manning allegations with determination and seriousness. Perhaps that is still coming, but in the meantime those who want to tell us Manning is as wholesome as a fresh snowfall because he sings to his chicken parm and has mastered an aw-shucks demeanor have seized the stage.
CBS’s Jim Nantz told WFAN’s Mike Francesa that he would not mention the HGH story during last Sunday’s Broncos-Chargers game. “If we talk about it, we would only continue to breathe life into a story that, on all levels, is a non-story,” said Nantz. “Why add another layer to it?” Nantz, who shares a representative with Manning, stuck to it.
There has scarcely been any new information revealed since Sly recanted — and not a lot of suspicion is required to wonder whether the silence among the NFL’s broadcast partners is by mandate or design. NFL programs and personalities have raced to praise Manning as essentially someone who would never do such a thing.
In New England, in the aftermath of Deflategate, we can’t help but wonder: Had the HGH been sent to Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele, rather than the Mannings, would there be such radio silence on the story?
It’s impossible to believe there would be, for the NFL media’s handling of controversy has been maddeningly and shamefully inconsistent, and the coverage often runs parallel in tone to the league’s mishandling of a particular scandal. That was evident through the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, and the Adrian Peterson child-abuse story, and the Greg Hardy debacle, and what the league knew and when about concussions, and through Roger Goodell’s summer-long Deflategate misdirection.
Peter King of TheMMQB.com has been wrong in the NFL’s favor on certain occasions, particularly in regard to the league’s initial blunder regarding Rice’s suspension for punching out his then-fiancée in a casino hotel elevator. Yet he had the hubris to say recently, in response to the different approaches to covering the Brady and Manning stories, that “the six-state region of New England has the biggest inferiority complex,’’ as he did recently on NFL Network host Rich Eisen’s radio show.
What he meant is a persecution complex, presumably, and the response to that should be unequivocal: You bet Patriots fans do. The national media is a significant reason why, and despite the Patriots’ documented willingness to approach the fringes of the rule book, it is beyond justified.
Brady’s good name was dragged through the mud from a few days after the AFC Championship game all the way through training camp for “more [probably] than not” being “generally aware” of a plan to slightly deflate footballs during the AFC Championship game. Meanwhile, it certainly appears a majority of the league’s media partners have retreated into nothing-to-see-here mode, a striking and telling contrast to the Brady-smashed-his-phone! melodrama of the summer.
The media’s collective underplaying — if not outright ignoring of the story — is bewildering, particularly since Goodell compared the idea of deflating footballs to performance-enhancing drug use in his reasoning for suspending Brady four games. Suspicion that ESPN, which has a $15.2 billion broadcast rights contract with the NFL, is ignoring the story gained traction when ESPN’s Mark Schlereth tweeted Dec. 31: “When those owners demand an investigation I’m sure it will get the Same attention. Till then quit crying.”
Perhaps the richest irony is that Al Jazeera, which broke and has not backed down from the Manning story, has had to endure slings and arrows from ESPN and other league partners. “Al Jazeera is not a credible news organization. They’re out there spreading garbage,’’ said Mike Ditka, an ESPN analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer. “That’s what they do, yet we give them credibility by talking about it.”
Ditka could not be more wrong. The reality is that ESPN would gain credibility by talking about it, and especially by investigating it. Given the hesitance of the league’s media partners to address the story other than briefly and in between phony guffaws on various pregame shows, expecting such professionalism is a daydream that will likely continue to go unfulfilled.