NFL’s Adolpho Birch on WADA administering drug testing: “We are looking into options to make sure NFL remains the leader in this area”

NFL senior vice president of labor policy Adolpho Birch (right) was asked today about the potential for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to administer the league’s steroid testing program.

“We thought our system worked well,” Birch said at the NFL Spring Meeting in Indianapolis. “Up until recently we had full support, participation and input from the players. In the absence of that, we need to look for ways to administer our policy in a way that keeps it as effective as we think it has been to date.  From a procedural standpoint, we need to look at those options. That would be one option.  We are certainly looking into that to see what that means for us and to see what that does to advance the idea that the NFL remains the leader in this area. What that means, we’ll find out, but we are going to take a look at it.”

“The goal is the same,” Birch said of the NFL and WADA. “Both organizations have always shared the goal that we want an effective program that deters those who wish to cheat and eliminates the threat of steroids from our game. Under any system that we consider, those would be the objectives: protect the health and safety of the player, understand their obligation as role models, and to have a fair and competitive level playing field.”

Following is a transcript of Birch’s media briefing: 

NFL Senior Vice President of Labor Policy Adolpho Birch at NFL Spring Meeting

May 24, 2011

On club fines for repeated safety violations by its players:

We will consider different types of approaches we can use that will be the most effective.  That goes from everything from the rule changes we talked about now to better use of injury data to better education to more effective posters in the locker room and to another of different items we look at to try to assist in that area.  One that is particularly important to the Commissioner and to the other clubs is the notion and idea of club accountability.  From our end, we are looking at a system that is similar to the one we put in a couple years ago with respect to off-field conduct to really encourage clubs and encourage coaches to teach the proper techniques and to correct dangerous play on the field. 

We are still working on some of the details.  We are talking extensively to the Competition Committee and others.  The basic point of it would be to check the number of fines and the level of fines that are going out for infractions that relate specifically to various safety violations, whether it be spearing, late hits or things that we think particularly relate to the head and helmet issues, and try to monitor those over the course of the year.  As a club’s total gets higher to a certain threshold, then we will enforce some penalty and payback for those clubs to help encourage them to stay below that threshold.  That is the basic point about it.  We have a lot to do on it.  We have a lot to think about in terms of what types of infractions we want to include, what exactly we want to do with the threshold, resetting and things like that for the season.  That is the basic principle.  It does really go into just one of the many ways in which we try to approach player health and safety on this issue.

On if club accountability penalties could be implemented in 2011:

That is correct.

On the penalties levied to clubs for multiple safety violations:

At this point, we are looking at financial but certainly the Commissioner, within his discretion, has the ability to go further.  We have to look at it in the context of the penalties that are already being imposed.  The player himself will get penalized, which penalizes the team.  Subsequently, the player could also be fined by the league.  Under our thought process now, nothing would occur unless there was a league fine or suspension.  That is what this policy is designed to do, not simply to punish a team for a penalty on top of the penalty itself, but really to look at things that are egregious enough to result in a fine or suspension by the league after the fact. 

On Pittsburgh Steelers fines in 2010 and whether those are partially responsible for this policy:

I don’t want to get into the specifics about particular teams.  If we used the appropriate thresholds and look at it, there were three or four teams that would have been subject to the policy last year.  We are comfortable that it would be a reasonable amount based on what we had looked at in looking at the numbers from 2010.

On the amount a team could be fined:

We are still working on the specific numbers but it will be, to use law terms, significant and reasonable.  I really don’t want to get into the numbers specifically until we do a little bit more vetting.  We want to be sure that based on the amount of fines we can expect both this year and historically and look at that against what we would think is an appropriate penalty for a club to pay.  When we get to that number, we will let everybody know.  Right now, we are still at a stage where we are not quite comfortable saying what we think it is.

On if the club accountability policy will definitely be implemented in 2011:

It is going to be implemented.  Some of the details we are still working out but the Commissioner was clear that it was something he wants to put into place this year.  We certainly felt that the prior one was well received not just by the clubs but also by fans and others who weigh in on those sorts of things.  This one would be appropriate as well. 

On making player fines public:

Our clubs don’t have any problems knowing what happens in that respect.  That really is the target audience.  Our clubs would have a hard time making the argument that they are not aware of what goes on.  I do understand the arguments about transparency.  We are also trying to promote the better things that happen in our league and you have to think about balancing that.  It is possible, certainly. 

On Rookie Symposium:

It’s fair to say that we waited as long as we could.  Those of you who have been to Rookie Symposium in the past understand that it is an extremely complex event that requires a lot of people – from all of the drafted players to the panelists and presenters, production people and the youth camp that is associated with it. It is really a large production. We got to the point, based on the uncertainty we have right now, that we needed to be fair to those who would be asked to come and participate and help us put it on.  Given that, we had to make a decision.  This was about as late as we could do it.

On rookie orientation at clubs:

It is going to be incumbent upon teams to do more.  Our office will assist the clubs in formulating alternatives.  There are a number of options and different ways we teach the information and provide the content.  The Rookie Symposium is an outstanding event. It is an unfortunate casualty of where we are right now.

We have specific programs that run for rookies throughout the year.  We also have league-sponsored programs that come in during the year and talk to players. There are a number of different avenues that we use. Unfortunately, they are not as comprehensive and one-stop shopping like the symposium.

On changing focus of rookie programs during year:

We are looking at all possibilities.

On WADA potentially handling drug testing:

We thought our system worked well.  Up until recently we had full support, participation and input from the players. In the absence of that, we need to look for ways to administer our policy in a way that keeps it as effective as we think it has been to date.  From a procedural standpoint, we need to look at those options. That would be one option.  We are certainly looking into that to see what that means for us and to see what that does to advance the idea that the NFL remains the leader in this area. What that means, we’ll find out, but we are going to take a look at it.

On how that could change the drug program:

The goal is the same. Both organizations have always shared the goal that we want an effective program that deters those who wish to cheat and eliminates the threat of steroids from our game. Under any system that we consider, those would be the objectives: protect the health and safety of the player, understand their obligation as role models, and to have a fair and competitive level playing field.

On WADA suggesting that NFL increase number of tests:

I doubt that they would suggest we would increase the number of tests. Our number of tests now is probably the most significant of any organization there is. I don’t think that particular point would come up, but WADA and USADA would have ideas on the way to operate and we would look at that and make determinations of what is the best way to go forward. No question about it.

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