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The Agony Must End
Paul Zimmerman
November 10, 1986
As injuries in the NFL continue at an unacceptable rate, a longtime student of pro football tells what has to be done
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November 10, 1986

The Agony Must End

As injuries in the NFL continue at an unacceptable rate, a longtime student of pro football tells what has to be done

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"Steroids are the worst problem in the NFL," says Indianapolis linebacker Johnie Cooks. "I just want to play football with the body the Lord gave me. Some of these guys we play are nothing but muscle. When you get hit by them, something has to go."

"Eighty percent of the time when a big guy tears a muscle, steroids are probably the reason why," Long says. "You put 50 pounds of muscle on a player, and he goes from a baggage carrier in the jungle to Tarzan, and he says, 'Wow, this is great!' But something has to give. You're putting too much muscle fiber on a body not designed for it.

"It's got to affect the joints and tendons, too. They're designed for your natural body, not the artificially created one. It's tampering, voodoo. You're either going to pay now or pay later."

Trainers around the league are slowly starting to realize he might be right. "I look with suspicion on some of those injuries when you can't determine how they happened," Saints trainer Dean Kleinschmidt says. "Steroids do strange things to your body. When a guy is pumped up on steroids, there's always a weak link, maybe an Achilles, maybe a patellar tendon."

Paul Sparling, one of the Cincinnati trainers, says, "If a player gets a funny little injury and takes a long time coming back, that's a real tip-off."

Solution: Attack anabolic steroids at the league level. A tough project. There hasn't been much concern about the question until recently. Steroids are not illegal unless they are obtained without a prescription. Testing is expensive. Each test costs about $100. O.K., it's worth it. Two spot checks for each player, every year, will cost a club about $10,000. Atlanta guard Bill Fralic, who last week admitted to "experimenting" with steroids for a few months when he was at Pitt, was so upset about the problem that during the off-season he called commissioner Pete Rozelle, urging him to begin regular steroid testing. "He said he was going to look into it and he'd just become aware of the problem," Fralic says.

Last summer Rozelle declared in an interview, "We're developing tests for steroids. We might even come out with it this year."

The feeling here is that any effective antisteroid effort must become part of the new Players Association contract to be negotiated after this season. The program will certainly have more bite and greater impact if the NFLPA enters into a joint endorsement with the league.

The Players Association has another duty to perform, if it wishes to do something about the injury problem. It has to take a serious position on artificial turf. Both the NFL-sponsored Stanford Research Institute International's 1974 study and the NCAA's 1982 study showed that the incidence of injury on synthetic turf was significantly higher than on grass. Since then, the NFL has offered no research to the contrary. Two weeks ago in Giants Stadium, the Jets lost two Pro Bowlers, noseguard Joe Klecko for a game and linebacker Lance Mehl for the season, because of noncontact injuries attributable to the artificial turf.

New, softer carpets, with better cushions, are more comfortable to fall on, but according to some people they also increase traction so that the cleats catch, causing knee injuries of the kind that befell Mehl and Klecko. "When the nap of the turf is new there's just too much traction," Cincinnati trainer Sparling says. " Archie Griffin tried to cut once on new turf and his foot stuck so firmly that he tore up his abdominal muscles in addition to his leg. He was out for the year."

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