"Sport is at its best when fans can witness great achievement under the rules of fair play," says the statement, attributed to NFLPA spokesman George Atallah. "Players who break those rules cheat the game, cheat the fans and cheat themselves. The players want a clean game as well as a clean process for enforcing those rules. We intend to address both in the collective bargaining process to make the system better."
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The union has been stung by criticism it has received from the NFL over its role in the StarCaps case involving Minnesota Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. The union believes that case to be different from the Cushing case because the courts (even in their most recent decision) found that the NFL did something wrong and was in violation of Minnesota state law in the way they handled that case. So today's statement is likely an effort by the union to appear stronger on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs than it has in the league's portrayal as it pertains to StarCaps.
But it's also part of a larger issue. Every player that gets caught cheating, as Brian Cushing was, casts negative aspersions on the large number of players who aren't cheating, and that latter group gets upset that it has to be lumped in with the cheaters. So by backing the drug policy instead of the specific player in this case, the NFLPA is also trying to send a message to those of its constituents who haven't broken the rules.
Not that the NFLPA considers the current policy perfect, of course. As is the case with personal conduct policy discipline, the players don't like the idea that the appeals in drug policy cases are heard by the same individual who issued the initial decision. And the union believes the StarCaps case raised some issues that have to be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement, which must be negotiated before the 2011 season in order to avoid a lockout. But in the Cushing matter, the union has decided to stand with the league and its drug policy.