Some critics think the league isn't particularly enlightened in the manner in which it treats its drug abusers. The 30-day suspension for counseling, they say, is far too short. Ricky Nattiel, a Bronco wide receiver who earned a degree in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Florida and who works as a counselor at a juvenile detention center during the off-season, says, "Of course, it's going to make the league look good when they say they're trying to help players in trouble. But you cannot help anybody in 30 days. I think you've got to suspend the player until he comes back healed, until he's well, until he has honestly overcome the problem."
Rozelle agrees that 30 days isn't enough: "It's time to think about things a little, maybe have some in-patient clinical care, but it's not long enough for a cure. A man needs at the very least three months for that, we are aware of that. We don't mean for 30 days to work a miracle."
Dr. Allan Lans, attending psychiatrist at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City and formerly the clinical director of the Smithers Center for Alcoholism and Drug Treatment (the rehabilitation clinic in Manhattan where the Mets' Dwight Gooden went for treatment), finds another big flaw in the NFL's drug program. "The trouble is, these suspensions are punitive," he says. "They're injuring the player. It's hard for me as a physician, a psychiatrist, to punish people for what is basically a disease. This has to be seen as a medical problem. The NFL is a relatively small group—some 1,300 people—small enough to make a consistent policy. There can't be this terrible confusion and seeming contradiction in the way players are treated. Testing should not be seen as a trap. It should be seen as a screen that's there to tell a player he's in trouble. It should be an aid. The NFL makes its drug-testing program demeaning, humiliating. It seems more like it's there to catch someone than to help him."
Another point of contention is the inequitable way NFL drug offenders are being dealt with once they're caught. The most startling comparison involves two deeply troubled superstars—Manley of the Redskins and Taylor of the Giants. Both have histories of drug and alcohol abuse, and this summer both had positive test results for the second time. However, Manley was caught in July, before training camp opened. Under NFL policy, he was suspended for the standard 30 days, which meant he missed a lot of punishing workouts in the hot sun and four meaningless preseason games. Taylor, on the other hand, produced his positive test on Aug. 15; he has missed the first two Giants games of the regular season and will miss two more. If the Redskins and the Giants also suspended the pay of the two men—which is unknown, since, in another odd twist in the NFL's thinking, a club doesn't have to penalize a transgressor if it doesn't want to—Manley would have lost a comparatively meager $2,800, while Taylor would be out a whopping $250,000.
Despite the wrongheadedness about steroids, the uneven disposition of justice and other flaws, there's still something to be said for the NFL's testing program. It has caused the players to take heed, and whether their motive is fear of being caught or fear of being sick, they should respond. The attention focused on drug use and the fact that the league is, for the first time, showing itself to be deadly serious about drug abuse can only be good in the long run.
Gogan, a Cowboy tackle, tested positive for marijuana in an early-summer test. Because he also had tested positive in the summer of 1987, he was suspended. His reaction to the experience is revealing—and a measure of the good to be found in the NFL program. "I got myself in a good rehabilitation program and I got my priorities straight, and now I feel good," says Gogan. "Millions of people smoke marijuana every day, and I was just one of them. But the system got me, and I'm glad that it did. I never thought I had a problem, but my counselor looks at it differently than I ever did."