HERNDON, Va. -- Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, saying the matter is 'a personal thing,' Monday refused to confirm a report that cornerback Barry Wilburn had been suspended indefinitely by the club for using cocaine.
The club placed Wilburn, a fifth-year veteran who led the NFL in interceptions in 1987, on the non-football related injury-illness list on Saturday, but declined to give a reason for the move.
The Washington Times, in Monday's editions, reported the club was notified by the NFL that Wilburn had failed a third drug test, testing positive for using cocaine.
'This is a personal thing between Barry Wilburn and the team,' Gibbs said. 'I think that's going to have to stay that way. But I would say this -- it's a shame some of this stuff has been written. It's not correct.'
Gibbs, though, did not specifically deny Wilburn had tested positive for drug use.
While the Redskins could activate Wilburn from that list at any time, the Times quoted an unnamed team official as saying the club likely will not allow Wilburn to return.
Asked when Wilburn would return to the team, Gibbs said: 'I don't know. I really don't know.'
The disciplinary action against Wilburn apparently was not initiated or triggered by the league.
'I can tell you the action was taken by the Redskins and beyond that we don't have any further comment,' said Jim Heffernan, the NFL's director of public relations. 'It was a personal matter, according to the Redskins. We have nothing to announce. We are not involved with this. They put him on (non-football related injury-illness list).'
Under NFL drug policy, all players take drug tests during the mandatory preseason physicals given by all clubs.
If a player tests positive for a banned substance such as cocaine or marijuana once, he is subject to random testing and ordered to participate in a drug education and rehabilitation program. A second positive test brings an automatic 30-day suspension. A third positive test brings a lifetime ban, with the player retaining the right to petition the league for reinstatement after one year.
But Wilburn had never received the 30-day suspension given to all those testing positive twice. Heffernan refused to say whether Wilburn had ever failed a league drug test.
Wilburn's Arlington-based lawyers at ProServ would not comment specifically on the report. Wilburn was unavailable for comment.
'We have to treat this as a private matter between Barry and the Redskins,' said ProServ spokesman Ted Ewanciw. 'So we can't say anything without breaching confidences and we won't do that.'
Two players have been banished from the league for life for violating the NFL's drug abuse policy: running backs Tony Collins of the Indianapolis Colts and Stanley Wilson of the Cincinnati Bengals, according to Heffernan.
One Redskins player has served a suspension by the league for violating the drug abuse policy. Former Pro Bowl defensive end Dexter Manley last year served a 30-day suspension for a second positive test.
Wilburn, an eighth-round draft choice out of Mississippi in 1985, was the Redskins' full-time starter at cornerback during the 1987 and 1988 seasons. He was shifted to reserve free safety during training camp but was moved back to start at cornerback two weeks ago after three-time Pro Bowl choice Darrell Green underwent wrist surgery.