ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Garbage then. Garbage now.
Nothing has changed Peyton Manning’s low opinion of an Al Jazeera report linking him to a clinic that deals in human-growth hormone.
Manning’s run to the Super Bowl has ensured the story will be brought up again — probably several times — over the next 10 days. But the quarterback said Thursday he thinks as little of the report now as he did when it first came out.
“It’s garbage from the first day it came out and still garbage today,” he said.
The news on “Peytongate” Thursday was that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, best known for nabbing Lance Armstrong and policing U.S. Olympic sports, confirmed it is helping the NFL in its ongoing, comprehensive review of Manning’s case. USADA is also working with Major League Baseball, which had players implicated in the Al Jazeera report.
That the league is reviewing the case wasn’t fresh news when it was reported earlier this week. But the NFL’s decision to reiterate the news dredged up the story, which came out late last month, before Manning regained the starting position he lost while he was rehabbing a foot injury.
“I do welcome it. It’s no news to me,” Manning said of the investigation, as the Broncos got back into their practice routine in advance of the Super Bowl.
Is the story a distraction as he prepares for the Feb. 7 game against Carolina?
“Not at all,” he said.
Last month, Al Jazeera reported that an intern at an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic was secretly recorded suggesting that in 2011, Manning’s wife received deliveries of HGH, which is banned by the league. Manning, then with the Colts, was rehabbing from neck surgeries.
The intern, Charles Sly, recanted the story. At the time, Manning angrily denounced the report, calling it “completely fabricated, complete trash, garbage,” and insisting he never took shortcuts in his difficult return to football after missing 2011 with neck problems.
Still, faced with the report, the NFL was obligated to look into it. Though no conclusion is expected before the Super Bowl, the resetting of the Manning investigation gives the NFL cover from those who suggest the league plays favorites.
A year ago, Tom Brady and the Patriots were in the crosshairs of “Deflategate” — an investigation about under-inflated footballs that bordered on ridiculous, but nonetheless roiled Super Bowl week, then extended well beyond.
The NFL is putting Manning under the same scrutiny, though the topic is completely different and, ultimately, more serious.
Manning’s welcoming of the probe is his way of saying he’s sure the league won’t find any wrongdoing.
And yet, the fact that the league did not have a testing program in place for HGH in 2011, and that the program it adopted is seen by some in anti-doping circles as having deficiencies, could be viewed as a disservice to Manning as he tries to show he’s innocent.
USADA CEO Travis Tygart wouldn’t comment on Manning’s case directly, because USADA was involved. But, he said, “athletes deserve to have the best anti-doping program in place to protect their rights, and if questions come, to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m clean, I did it right and I’m held to the highest standards.’ Anything less really lets down athletes, and they deserve more.”
USADA has been a frequent critic of some of the NFL’s policies, but has also consulted with the league on testing protocols and other issues.
Bringing USADA into the mix adds a certain authority to the probe that might otherwise be lacking.
With a full 10 days, and at least three more media sessions left for Manning until the Super Bowl, it’s certain this won’t be the last of the questions he faces on the topic, as he prepares for what could be his last game.
“Keep your eye on the prize,” was Broncos defensive lineman Antonio Smith’s advice. “Keep your eye on the purpose in which we are sacrificing to be in the position we’re in.”