Exec: Union's actions 'disservice'

Updated: February 21, 2013, 8:11 PM ET
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL executive heading up the league's effort to implement HGH testing said Thursday that the policy should have been in place for a year already and that the failure of the NFL Players Association to do its part to make testing happen has created a "disservice to all."

Adolpho Birch, the NFL's senior vice president of law and labor policy, said the league offered the players a proposal before the Super Bowl that addressed each of the NFLPA's concerns. The league got a response Wednesday night that Birch said he has yet to review.

I have concerns for the vast majority of our players who are clean and want to compete in the right way, that they are being sacrificed for issues that don't involve the policy and are really more about trying to get do-overs on issues that are unrelated to the effectiveness of this particular steroid policy.

-- Adolpho Birch, the NFL's senior vice president of law and labor policy

Birch said the players' primary objection to the testing has moved from an insistence on a population study to concerns with an appeals process and that the union has tried to raise issues not connected to HGH testing.

"In response to the recent set of issues raised, we put forward a proposal that addressed every one of the stated concerns that they had concerning the appeals process," Birch said at the NFL scouting combine.

That proposal, he said, includes an option for players to challenge the science of the test as the union requested, despite the league's stance that the test is sound and that such appeals would be an unhealthy element of a policy.

"There is no question that the test is accurate, the test is reliable, and it is perfectly appropriate for NFL players," he said.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah responded to Birch's claims later Thursday, saying, "The false characterizations Adolpho made today about the NFL's HGH proposal bring us no closer to a fair, safe and effective testing protocol."

On Tuesday, the union said in a conference call that it favors HGH testing but only with a strong appeal process.

"We've had kind of a long history in our union and the league's relationship and that's deteriorated the trust between the two, and the players don't feel comfortable moving forward and I don't feel comfortable moving forward without the proper protections in place," NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth said. "As far as I understand, there's no good reason not to have those protections in place, so that's kind of the hold up as far as HGH is concerned.

"HGH testing that doesn't give our players the opportunity to appeal, that's just a nonstarter."

Birch said both sides are sending bad messages with the inability to reach agreement on a policy they said they agreed to put together as part of a new collective bargaining agreement in 2011.

"I have concerns for the vast majority of our players who are clean and want to compete in the right way, that they are being sacrificed for issues that don't involve the policy and are really more about trying to get do-overs on issues that are unrelated to the effectiveness of this particular steroid policy," he said. "I have concerns for that minority of players that are looking to game the system, that they believe, given the union's lack of urgency and lack of commitment on this thing, that they might be able to continue to get away with bending or cheating on our system. I have concerns for the fans who see this continued effort not to get this done as some sign that the NFL and the league and its players are no longer serious about eliminating the threat of performance-enhancing drugs."

In trickle-down fashion, it's sending a bad message to kids who play about what's permissible at the highest level of the sport, Birch said.

While the league is giving ground on the appeal process, it does not want to create a system where players can stall the system to delay the inevitable.

With regard to the broader policy against performance enhancers, Birch said the league would prefer a policy like that of Major League Baseball, which the NFLPA has said it likes. But under those rules, the substance for which a player tests positive is revealed. The NFL policy forbids such a revelation. Many NFL players who have been penalized for positive tests recently have claimed to have tested positive for Adderall, and there is a lot of skepticism about players and agents using the ADHD drug to hide behind a positive test for something the public would perceive as worse.

The NFL would like such information to be public "so that there is no misinformation and ability to sort of minimize what the nature of an individual's violation is," Birch said. "We think that's very important -- not only for accuracy but also to help other players understand the real types of substances that could potentially lead to a positive result."

A source familiar with the NFL's proposal and the union's response, however, said it is not in line with Major League's Baseball's HGH testing protocol, as Birch said it is. The source cited two examples. Baseball's plan puts the burden of proof for appeals on the league to prove the player's guilt; the NFL proposal requires the player to prove their innocence. A second difference is that MLB's protocol allows players to challenge on appeal any element of a positive test, including the science. The NFL proposal places a limitation on what science can be challenged.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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