Both Bias and Rogers had made some dubious acquaintances. Bias ran with Brian Tribble, who was considered by some of Bias's friends to be a bad influence on him and was with him the night he died. Rogers was "disturbed" about the number of "people he didn't know" at his bachelor party the night before his death, according to his boyhood friend, Ference Lang. Somebody even had a white stretch limousine, loaded with whiskey and champagne, hired to pick Rogers up. A week later Rogers rode in another kind of limo, followed by most of his teammates. Some lousy road trip, huh, fellas?
If, like Tom Sawyer, Bias and Rogers could have witnessed their own funerals, would they have known any better who genuinely cared for them? The Rogers funeral last Thursday was moved from his high school gym to Arco Arena in Sacramento, where more than 2,000 "family and friends" mourned. Does anybody have 2,000 family and friends? How many of those cared more for him than for his strength and speed? Bias had been flunking his entire course load at Maryland this spring, and few seemed to care. Could he sense that? "Pressure builds from the inside," says Carolyn Thomas, a sports psychologist at the University of Buffalo. "The athlete thinks, 'This has become a very central part of who I am—this skill, this power, this status. And I don't know who else I am.' "
If athletes are ever going to find out, we must listen to them. Every pro team and college team has a muscle coach, but how many have an emotion coach? Insist that teams hire full-time sports psychologists, or counselors, accountable to no one in any athletic department.
For their part, athletes have to awaken from past stupidity. If you're fast, run from it. If you're strong, outmuscle it. Don't "just say no." Do what All-America linebacker Brian Bosworth of Oklahoma does. One night a dealer asked him if he needed drugs. Bosworth said no. The dealer asked again. Bosworth coldcocked him. Hasn't had much of a problem since.
Third, no more drug tests without teaching first. Nobody ever takes a test without going to a class first, right? Drug education should begin before it's too late, in elementary school. Teach athletes USC coach George Raveling's four R's: "Readin', writin', 'rithmetic and reasoning." Make every collegiate freshman athlete take Real Life 101. Give him the first year off from sports to find out where the library is and then teach him how to write a check, conduct an interview, use the right fork, fend off dealers, make friends, eschew agents and like himself. Insist on progress toward a degree. Abolish athletic dorms that keep him isolated and typecast and targeted.
Then test. The civil liberties objections to testing are serious, and it's worth pointing out that tests taken by Bias—he passed several in the weeks before his death—were obviously ineffective. But rigorous random testing of the kind proposed by the NFL—and likely to be challenged by the NFL Players Association—figures to be at least a partial deterrent to cocaine use. And with lives at stake, a partial deterrent is better than no deterrent at all. Testing should be tied to rehabilitation programs, but it should also have teeth. If a college kid fails a test once, for instance, his season is over—not his scholarship, his season—and into rehab he goes. If one member of a team fails a test at a championship event, the team's season is over. That might get a few coaches' attention.
What was it Dylan Thomas wrote? "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." It's getting dark. This may be our last chance. Anything is possible. Ask Danny. I did when we talked on the phone not along ago.
Danny is charming and comical and off cocaine these days. He got help and never went back.
A lot of guys have died between that night I last saw Danny under the streetlight and now, but none of them died for Danny's sake. There were lessons to be learned, but Danny had to teach himself.
Len Bias and Don Rogers didn't learn in time. Let's hope others do.