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FAILING THE TEST
Last May, Dr. Forest Tennant, the drug-abuse adviser for the National Football League, told the Wichita Eagle-Beacon, "Professional sports has really diminished its alcohol, cocaine and marijuana problems. Not that they don't have brushfires once in a while, but their testing, their education, their discipline programs have gone a great distance in resolving the problem."
Brushfires? On Monday the NFL announced that Lawrence Taylor, the New York Giants' star linebacker, had tested positive on a recent drug test, and because it was his second such offense, he would be suspended for 30 days, encompassing the first four games of the regular season. That brings the number of NFL players who have been caught and suspended this summer to nine. In baseball, Leon Durham and Eddie Milner of the Cincinnati Reds have undergone drug rehab this year, and John Rabb of the Seattle Mariners was suspended Aug. 4 for failing to comply with his drug-testing program.
The problem will not go away. Those who believe that a four-game suspension for a second offense is a sufficient deterrent are as deluded and naive as Taylor, who wrote in his 1987 book, LT: Living on the Edge, that he had cured his addiction to cocaine by playing a lot of golf. Despite last May's assurances by Tennant, the fires still rage.
There was disturbing news on another front over the weekend. U.S. Swimming, the governing body for the sport in this country, and the U.S. Olympic Committee announced Sunday that Angel Myers, who won three events at the recent Olympic trials and had a chance to win five medals in Seoul, would be disqualified from the Olympic team for use of a banned substance. She had tested positive at the trials in Austin, Texas, Aug. 8-13, and although the swimming officials would not name the substance, John Maher of the Austin American-Statesman learned from Myers's father, Kirt, that the substance was identified as nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. "I am positive she has never taken anything illegal," said Kirt Myers, who claimed that either 1) birth control pills caused a mistaken reading or 2) drinks Angel was given at the trials were spiked.
Richard Quick, the Olympic swimming coach, named Jill Sterkel and Janel Jorgensen to replace Myers. While Sterkel now becomes the first U.S. woman swimmer to be a member of four Olympic teams, Myers becomes a footnote. The 21-year-old swimmer from Americus, Ga., had made great gains in recent months, and her performance at the trials, in which she set American records in the 50-and 100-meter freestyles and won the 100 butterfly, was stunning to some observers. When SI's Craig Neff asked a top American coach how he felt about Myers's surprising performance, the coach said, "I'll let you know in two weeks when the test results come back."
Myers failed her tests, but U.S. Swimming and the USOC passed a test of a different sort. The two organizations must be serious about drug testing if they are willing and prepared to disqualify a swimmer of Myers's ability. "It is a shame that this has happened to our sport and Olympic sports." said Quick, "but it speaks well for the necessity and integrity of substance testing."
TUG GETS TAGGED
Here is one last tidbit from the first night game at Wrigley Field, on Aug. 8. Tug McGraw, the former relief pitcher for the Mets and the Phillies, had to do a feature on the game for WPVI, the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia, so he decided to find out how night games would affect those fans who watch Cub games from the rooftops across Waveland Avenue. On one of the roofs, McGraw said to a Cub fan named Bob Mylan, "Hey, this doesn't look too far away. Do any home runs ever come up here?"