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Edited by Craig Neff and Robert Sullivan
March 10, 1986
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March 10, 1986


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The NBA last week imposed a lifetime ban on New Jersey Nets guard Micheal Ray Richardson after he tested positive for cocaine, indicating his third lapse into drug use in 29 months. Richardson, whose drug problems had taken him in and out of at least four rehabilitation centers over the last three years, was not expected to appeal the ban, which was automatic under the NBA's 1983 antidrug program but could be rescinded after two years under certain conditions. In another antidrug action, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth conditionally suspended 11 players implicated in last summer's drug trials in Pittsburgh and established a limited antidrug program for the major leagues based on confidential testing and rehabilitative care by independent medical experts.

Unlike the NBA's antidrug program, the one announced by Ueberroth was not established with the approval of the sport's Players Association. His plan shifts control of drug testing from individual teams to the commissioner's office and involves testing only those ballplayers who have testing clauses in their contracts and certain others with histories of drug use. Players testing positive for any of four illicit substances (cocaine, heroin, morphine or marijuana) will be offered medical treatment, though the fate of repeat or uncooperative offenders is unclear.

Of more immediate interest was Ueberroth's handling of 23 current or former players who admitted to drug use or were named as drug users at the Pittsburgh trials. Ueberroth could simply have suspended them all unconditionally. Among others, Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens, Jerry Martin, Steve Howe and Vida Blue have all been suspended in the past by baseball for drug-related reasons, as have John Drew in the NBA (he was hit with a lifetime ban last winter but by then was already out of the league); Don Murdoch and Ric Nattress in the NHL; and at least six NFL players.

But Ueberroth said he felt that suspensions alone have not proved an effective deterrent to drug use. Having interviewed all but one of the Pittsburgh 23 this winter (former player John Milner refused to talk), Ueberroth decided to divide the players into three groups: Those in Group A, the most serious offenders ( Joaquin Andujar, Dale Berra, Enos Cabell, Keith Hernandez, Jeff Leonard, Dave Parker and Lonnie Smith), were said to have been involved in both a "prolonged pattern of drug use" and in facilitating the distribution of drugs to others in the sport. Ueberroth suspended them all for one year but said he would hold the suspensions in abeyance if the players agreed to donate 10% of their 1986 base salaries to a drug-treatment facility or program in the city in which they play, perform a minimum of 100 hours of drug-related community service for each of the next two years and agree to random drug testing for the rest of their playing careers.

Players in Group B ( Al Holland, Lee Lacy, Lary Sorensen and Claudell Washington), who Ueberroth said had "engaged in more limited use or involvement with drugs," were told they face 60-day suspensions unless they donate 5% of their salaries to a drug program, do 50 hours of community service and agree to be tested. Group C players (Blue, Dusty Baker, Gary Matthews, Manny Sarmiento, Derrel Thomas, Dickie Noles, Daryl Sconiers, Rod Scurry, Tim Raines and Alan Wiggins), those for whom "little or no evidence of drug involvement exists or whose cases have already been handled through other procedures," will simply be required to submit to testing. Milner, until he agrees to meet with Ueberroth, will be banned from any association with baseball.

Hernandez, whose base salary is the highest among the affected players (his 10% donation would be a hefty, though tax-deductible, $135,000), said he would file a grievance. Players Association director Don Fehr, who according to Ueberroth was regularly consulted during the planning stages of the program, said his office would review the penalties before formally reacting.

Some critics outside the union said that the commissioner had been too lenient. Others challenged his long-range drug program on several counts. It is vague on questions of enforcement, for one thing, and by no means comprehensive; abuse of alcohol, amphetamines and anabolic steroids is not addressed. But Ueberroth, stating that his objective was to "get people help" rather than punish, said the plan reflects "the combined best knowledge of what will work and what will not."

Finding something that works is a matter of continuing urgency. The problem isn't confined to the NBA and major league baseball, either. Last week The Boston Globe's Will McDonough reported that the NFL tested 350 top college prospects for drug use at a recent scouting camp. Shockingly, the league found that 57 of them (16%) had either marijuana, cocaine or other drugs in their systems.


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