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The NFL And Drugs: Fumbling For A Game Plan
Craig Neff
February 10, 1986
New England coach Raymond Berry, upset by inaction, tried to combat drugs and touched off a post-Super Bowl uproar
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February 10, 1986

The Nfl And Drugs: Fumbling For A Game Plan

New England coach Raymond Berry, upset by inaction, tried to combat drugs and touched off a post-Super Bowl uproar

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In confronting players he had reason to believe were using drugs. Berry was acting in accordance with the collective-bargaining drug plan. But he also circumvented that plan. For one thing, he lobbied players to try to get them to consent to teamwide mandatory drug testing, an obvious end run around the agreement. The end run culminated in the post-Super Bowl meeting, at which the players voted to accept voluntary drug testing. "There was nothing existing that really had done anything," Berry says. "I decided something had to be done."

It is hard to disagree with Berry on that. Less defensible is the fact that the Patriots—Berry, maybe, general manager Patrick Sullivan for sure—saw fit to breach the agreement by confirming the identities of the six alleged drug users. According to club officials, all six (and an unidentified seventh New England player) had admitted drug use and agreed to counseling sessions and regular urine tests. When their names appeared in the Globe, the six felt betrayed, and Clayborn, for one, denied having used drugs. According to Borges, Berry had confirmed some of the players' identities weeks earlier by nodding his head when read their uniform numbers. At any rate, Sullivan had provided direct confirmation of the six names.

"All the trust is broken," said Fryar angrily in reaction. "I don't trust coach Berry and I surely don't trust Pat Sullivan." New England player representative Brian Holloway declared the team's Monday approval of drug testing invalid. Upshaw added, "I can't think of anything the Sullivans haven't screwed up yet, from the Michael Jackson concert [the tour promoted by Patriot executive vice-president Chuck Sullivan, Patrick's brother] on down. If anyone in their organization should know what's in the collective-bargaining agreement it's Chuck Sullivan. As a management council member and executive committee president, he [helped] draw it up."

The Patriot players were further incensed by the slowness of New England management to put the extent of their drug involvement in perspective. Only on Thursday did team psychiatrist Dr. Armand Nicholi issue a statement explaining that all seven Patriots involved in the drug-testing program had tested clean by Jan. 8, and that some had been clean the entire season.

Sims, who says he tested clean from training camp on after being involved with marijuana, was so furious at New England management that he said he wasn't sure he could ever play for the team again. Clayborn asked to be traded or released outright. Sims said all six had been "given up as sacrificial lambs" by Berry and Sullivan "to avoid a speculative story that would have implicated the whole team."

In fact, the Patriots' drug problems may have been no worse than those of some other NFL teams. A source close to the St. Louis Cardinals, for example, has told SI that five Cardinals entered drug rehabilitation programs after the 1984 season. Coach Jim Hanifan, who was fired at the end of the '85 season, says that drug use by St. Louis players was one of the contributing factors in the demise of his team after high preseason hopes.

Borges, 36, the Globe's Patriot-beat writer, says he had the first threads of his drug story as early as mid-December. "I'd received information from various sources—people on the streets, players—that things were going down in bars and restaurants around town," he says.

Borges learned from his informants that some of the Patriots had attended a drug party in Miami following New England's 30-27 loss to the Dolphins on Dec. 16, and that Berry had confronted them about it afterward. Borges says he tried to pin down more details but couldn't. On Jan. 6 he approached Berry with his drug allegations.

Berry says he sensed at this meeting that Borges already had the whole story. No names were mentioned, according to Berry, although Borges, as noted earlier, claims the coach tacitly confirmed the uniform numbers of some of those allegedly involved with drugs. Borges says Berry agreed to cooperate only if the story were held until the end of the Patriots' season, and Borges says he agreed to hold off. Berry remembers differently. He asserts that there was no deal, that Borges "said he would like to talk off the record" and "told me...he would try not to print the story before the [AFC Championship] game." In either case, the Globe's failure to print the drug story following the Jan. 6 meeting—or earlier—brought charges from the rival Boston Herald that the Globe had sat on the story for fear of hurting the Pats in the playoffs. The Globe denied this. Borges said he at first had no solid story and later felt honor-bound by his pledge to Berry to wait until the end of the season.

Berry has made the elimination of drugs a personal crusade since replacing Ron Meyer as Patriot coach in October of 1984. He is sensitive to the issue, partly as a result of the 1963 death by heroin overdose of his former Baltimore Colt teammate Big Daddy Lipscomb. When Berry began to push for drug testing following the 1984 season, he made a point of visiting virtually every Patriot player to talk about the evils of drug use.

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