But in stories last March, The New York Times, citing several unnamed league sources, reported that Sapp had tested positive for cocaine and marijuana at the previous month's NFL scouting combine. The league quickly issued a statement denying that Sapp had tested positive for cocaine. However, 10 days before the April 22 draft, team officials got their first chance to read NFL Security's file on Sapp. The file reportedly said that Sapp had indeed tested positive for cocaine and had tested positive for marijuana six times.
Sapp ended up being drafted 12th, by the Bucs, who got him for $4.4 million over four years, including a $2.3 million signing bonus—a package worth several million less than what any of the top five picks received. Half of Sapp's bonus was tied to his remaining drug-free, and he was required to pass weekly drug tests throughout his rookie season.
Sapp, Rosenhaus and at least two NFL team officials challenge some of the information that they say was in Sapp's file. "We saw what the NFL had," says Bill Kuharich, general manager of the New Orleans Saints, "but we did our own investigation. Their information wasn't accurate." When asked for specifics, Kuharich hedges a little, saying the NFL report had a higher number of positive drug tests for Sapp than the Saints' report did, but "remember, [NFL Security has] much more access to people."
Armey, whose team also looked into Sapp's background—the Pats spend more than a million a year on various investigative efforts—echoes Kuharich. "Our investigation didn't turn up anything like the NFL's," he says. "I believe ours." Armey refuses to cite specific inaccuracies.
Sapp's rookie season was something of a disappointment—he had three sacks and 27 tackles—but he apparently passed all his weekly drug tests. Rosenhaus denies his client has ever used cocaine and says Sapp has tested positive for marijuana only twice: once while a freshman at Miami and once at the '95 combine. The NFL stands by the accuracy of its information on Sapp.
Rosenhaus makes the claim that for every Sapp, whose story made headlines across the country, "there are 10 other guys who fall from the second round to the fifth because of some secretive NFL report, but no one ever hears about them." The fact is, a prospect who drops inexplicably to a lower round of the draft can never be sure whether an NFL security report is to blame.
And that disturbs a number of players, agents and NFLPA types. "What we need to know is who is watching the cops," says Ed Garvey, Upshaw's predecessor at the players' association. "It's a little frightening because they're not accountable to anyone." NFL Security is in fact accountable to commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who in turn is accountable to team owners, a group that doesn't exactly champion the civil liberties of players. The security office comprises a director, a deputy, 30 private investigators (one assigned to each NFL team) and consultants from drug enforcement and casino gambling. The investigators are all former law enforcement officials.
Doing background checks on prospects is only one of NFL Security's tasks. Among other things, it also investigates reports of improprieties involving players already in the NFL, coordinates Super Bowl security and, above all, tries to protect the league's public image.
As far back as the 1950s the NFL was using former FBI agents to investigate rumors of gambling and improper associations. The security department was formally established in 1961, and its efforts led to the suspensions of Green Bay Packers halfback Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras for the 1963 season for gambling on NFL games. League security also provided the information that in 1969 forced New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath to give up his interest in Bachelors III, a New York City watering hole said to be frequented by gamblers and organized-crime figures.
Given the number of current players who have been arrested or have tested positive for drugs since entering the league, NFL Security has hardly succeeded in cleaning up the league's off-the-field problems, but its officials like to talk tough. Charlie Jackson, the deputy director, used to conclude his antidrug speeches to teams by saying, "If you should get caught, your ass is grass, and I'm the lawn mower."