The NFL has suddenly reversed its field on anabolic steroids. Abandoning its do-nothing approach, the league has decided to put steroids—potentially dangerous drugs used by players to beef themselves up and increase their aggressiveness—in the same category as cocaine and marijuana. Under its collective-bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, the NFL has the right to test for drugs once during minicamp and training camp, and the league has announced that starting next summer, testing will be expanded to include steroids. Presumably the league will also press for in-season steroids testing, as it is doing for other drugs.
This tough new antisteroids position is welcome, but the avowed reasons for it are rather suspect. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle has lately been answering questions on the subject by saying that he is learning about anabolic steroids, creating the impression that their widespread use by NFL players and associated health hazards have only recently been called to his attention. And Joe Browne, the NFL's director of communications, has said the move was made possible by "new testing methodology."
In reality there have been any number of detailed reports over the years on the prevalence of anabolic steroids use. In an SI special report last year, now-retired Tampa Bay guard Steve Courson estimated that 75% of NFL linemen used steroids and that probably 95% had tried them. The health risks of the drugs have also been well documented and include liver and kidney disorders, hypertension, sterility and cancer.
Testing for steroids use in other sports has been conducted for years—accurately and on a fairly large scale. The International Olympic Committee has tested for steroids since the 1976 Montreal Games. Even some civil libertarians accept the idea of testing for performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids. The NFL has cried about the cost of such tests and the shortage of qualified labs, but if the IOC and at least a dozen college football teams could afford the price, presumably so could the NFL. At the least, the league could have used small-scale spot testing during training camps as a deterrent.
In the past the NFL has seemed less interested in the steroids problem than in protecting its image. After the '85 SI story, Browne chortled at the fact that few newspapers had picked up on it. Rozelle's attention appeared to be aroused only after players like Falcon guard Bill Fralic and Raider defensive end Howie Long began speaking out strongly against steroids. It may also be significant that two of the nation's principal insurers of pro and college athletes cited widespread steroids use and a possibly associated increase in injuries as reasons they recently stopped writing new policies against career-ending injuries for football players.
It appears that Rozelle, having sensed which way the winds are blowing, has put up a sail and gone with them.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT
Bears fullback Matt Suhey tells the tall tale of an Alaskan hunting trip he took with teammate Walter Payton. Suhey awoke one evening to find Payton putting on his running shoes. Payton said there was a bear—a real bear—outside the tent.
"You can't outrun a bear," said Suhey.