Tim Christine, Director of Security, NFLPA:
First, can you let readers know how you took on this position – how did you get involved in managing the security programs for the NFLPA?
I started my professional career in law enforcement as a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service and spent 21 years with the Secret Service where I managed both investigative and protective assignments. My last assignment was in Syracuse, NY, as the Agent in Charge.
In 2003, I retired from the Secret Service to pursue a new position in the private sector as the first director of security at NASCAR in Daytona Beach, Fla. with oversight of the top three national touring series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Truck Series. NASCAR was experiencing unprecedented growth in terms of spectator attendance at events and in television popularity. When I was brought on board, NASCAR had 32 tracks with 32 different security plans. With the events of 9/11 fresh in the thoughts of the country, I was challenged with assessing, developing and implementing security plans and procedures enterprise-wide, for all sanctioned race tracks and facilities.
The task led me to work closely with the NFL, MLB, NBA, PGA and the NHL before establishing and introducing new standards to event security management to NASCAR. I remained at NASCAR for four years before taking positions in the NFL, first as the director of security for the Washington Redskins and ultimately with the NFL Players Association. I have been with the NFLPA for the past four years.
What has surprised you most since taking on this role?
I was most surprised with the dedication of the NFLPA staff and the efforts of the player representatives. Just like at NASCAR, my position did not previously exist. I was very impressed with the vision of Gene Upshaw who built the NFLPA to be the finest professional sports labor association anywhere.
Just two weeks into my time with the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw unexpectedly passed away. At the time, Gene and the entire staff were entering what everyone expected to be the toughest period of the organization’s history, as the union prepared to negotiate a completely new CBA with NFL after management opted out of the existing CBA two years early. Upshaw led the players association for more than 25 years, and his passing could have been devastating to the success of our leadership during this crucial time.
However, then-NFLPA President Kevin Mawae, the player representatives and NFLPA staff pushed through their grief and mourning of Gene Upshaw, staying united and dedicated to their work. Our players and staff first rallied together to first elect a new leader, and then without a moment’s rest, we were off to the races as the labor battle was underway. The unselfish efforts of the players and everyone at the NFLPA during that time left a mark on my soul which I will never soon forget.
What new programs are you and the NFLPA looking to implement in 2012-2013 and what inspired these new ideas?
The two most important and influential persons in a player’s career are his Contract Advisors (Agents) and his Financial Advisors, and this year, the NFLPA strengthened and enhanced background investigations for both.
I collaborated with our player services, legal, salary cap/agent administration and financial advisors departments to take a more aggressive, proactive position. Proposals were submitted to leading national private investigative service providers. The end result was that the NFLPA selected a new and innovative security firm — Hillard Heintze, headquartered in Chicago, founded in 2004 by Terry Hilliard, former Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department and Arnette Heintze former Senior Executive with the U. S. Secret Service — to administer background investigations for both the Contract Advisors and Financial Advisors programs.
I feel we made significant advancements to identify and mitigate potential threats to our members, as Hillard Heintze is one of the fastest growing companies and a recognized leader in administering investigative services at the national level. The more information we collect and review, the better our players are protected.
What have been the most – and least – effective programs so far, and why?
This is a very tough question to answer. Our most successful program and least successful program may be one in the same. In 2010, the NFLPA introduced a program known as the Player Transportation Link. PTL is administered by Corporate Security Solutions, a national security firm based in Orlando, Fla. and is designed to deter our members from driving while impaired. PTL offers our members – both active and former players – two options: pre-arranged transportation or emergency service. The call center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the service is available in all 50 U.S. states and Canada.
When a player places an emergency call to PTL, a security supervisor at CSSI will immediately dispatch a town car or limousine to pick up the player and transport him to a safe destination. We have seen significant growth in use by our members, and this month alone (as of July 26), 68 players have used the PTL, the most ever.
On average, 60% pre-arrange transportation and 40% fall into the emergency service category. There is no doubt the program is working and players have options. However, there have been a far too may recent instances of player DUIs. Player health and safety, and his impact on his community – are paramount issues to the NFLPA. We have made some significant strides, but we will always look for ways to better assist our members in making informed decisions.
What are the biggest mistakes you see athletes make in terms of personal security and protection, and how do you help prevent such occurrences?
Our members are some of the most successful athletes in all of professional sports. NFL players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever. However, as a consequence, their playing careers actually trend shorter than their peers in other professional sports. The average playing career of an NFL player is only 3.4 years.
Players who successfully make the transition from the locker room to the boardroom are fully engaged in the process we term the ‘business of football.” While most see football as only a game, it is indeed a business for our members.
Possessing a college degree is the best form of insurance an professional athlete can have for himself and for his family. It opens the door to much greater opportunities when his playing career has ended. During his NFL career, a player should to be fully engaged in the day-to-day decisions regarding his finances, especially when it comes to savings and investments. A player who delegates less of these responsibilities and stays informed generally stands the best chance to prosper off of the field.
Saying “NO” to family, friends and the constant barrage of pitchmen presenting business opportunities can be very difficult for a young man who just received his first NFL paycheck. However, these checks come for, on average, only 3.4 years and then he finds himself “retired” at the age of 25. Actively monitoring his assets, making low-risk and long-term investments and protecting his brand by making smart decisions on and off-the-field are an athlete’s best forms of personal and financial security.
How do you work with the teams to help implement and maintain security measures for players?
The NFLPA, NFL and teams work together in a myriad of areas to protect players. When it comes to player protection and the personal safety, there are no barriers between the players’ union, the league and its teams. The NFL’s security initiatives are primarily focused on protecting current players, and the league and clubs have security personnel who interact directly with our players.
I work closely with the NFL’s security team to thoroughly investigate any form of fraud or criminal acts directed against our members. However, there are absolutely some notable differences. While the NFL does not generally offer or provide security services to retired players, our focus at the NFLPA is providing life-long services to our members, both active and former players.
There is also the element of privacy. The NFL and its teams are our players’ employers, and there are times when a player requires confidential security services. We provide services to our members so that they can conduct confidential background checks on all persons who come in contact with their families in addition to performing background investigations on prospective business associates.
With so much discussion on how players handle their post-NFL careers and lives and the difficulties they have in doing so at times, how do you work with players so they have a healthy mindset entering their post-NFL years, and how do you go about doing so?
Executive Director DeMaurice Smith restructured our organization to be completely player-centric, meaning the entire NFLPA staff is constantly educating our members on life after football.
Before a player’s 29th birthday, he most likely will have already made the transition to being a former player. The best way we can collectively protect our members is through education. Just last week, a prominent NFL agent hosted a two-day retreat for nearly 30 players he represents, and part of his agenda was a stop to the NFLPA. All of our departments – including security – had the opportunity to present to this group to remind them of the services we provide, during a player’s career, his transition, and his post-career life.
For active players, our player advocates, player representatives and executive committee members serve as our liaisons in the locker room and are able to assist struggling teammates by connecting them with the right resources. Annually, our former players department conducts an exit symposium, collecting data from and offering assistance to those who are in transition and those who have been out of the game for years.
In the last year, we have set up a 24/7 hotline for our members needing emergency assistance for a variety of issues, including depression, and have the ability to get a former player in need admitted to an intervention program, anywhere in the country. We have a partnership with the University of Michigan Depression Center to provide former players with a comprehensive mood and behavioral evaluation resulting in a personalized treatment plan. The need-based program includes follow ups for a year.
The NFLPA also has a relationship with The Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and concerned players can have their brain and/or body evaluated. We are working on cementing additional relationships with nationally prominent institutions to better assist those who are in need of help.
This has been a rough week for off-field issues. How frustrating is it for you to establish all of these programs and see players still make off-field mistakes as they do?
Yes, there have been too many negative stories in the media involving players. However, there is also an element of perception that our players are being arrested at a higher rate than the general public, which is not factual. Last year, a Minneapolis television station conducted a survey of all professional athletes who were arrested since 2000. It found that 1-in-48 NFL players were arrested for a violation more serious than a traffic offense. A comparison of the general public revealed an arrest rate of 1-in-23, which is nearly double the NFL figure.
Additionally, while members of the media were quick to publicize player DUIs this offseason, they seemed to be less eager to promote the good works our members did. The NFLPA communications department recently distributed a press release highlighting community initiatives by hundreds of active and former players this summer. From military visits to free football clinics to charitable donations, the vast majority of our players are constantly looking for ways to improve their cities in positive ways. I am not trying to downplay the issue, and I am aware our members are human and subject to the same influences as our society in general.
However, with the average playing career being so short there is no time for do-overs and one mistake can tarnish an otherwise stellar career and reputation. We will continue to inform and educate our players about making decisions that will benefit them in both the short term and the long term.
What are your thoughts on the NFL’s/Roger Goodell’s approach to fines and suspensions for off-field behavior? Do you agree with the direction the NFL has taken? Why/why not?
While I am the Director of Security, I am neither the President nor the Executive Director of the NFLPA. The leadership of the NFLPA – general counsel, players representatives, executive committee, president and executive director – are actively engaged with the issues of player conduct and Commissioner discipline. This team is informed and I am confident it will continue to address any and all points of disagreement in this area.
Any last thoughts for readers?
We all look forward to the start of the 2012 season with great anticipation for the promise it holds. I will continue to strive to provide our members with the best resources, enabling them to make informed decisions when it comes to personal security. Ultimately, I believe this will allow our player to do what they do best – play the game we all love to watch!