Drug suspensions in the NFL this season reached a total of 17 last week, and no one knew if we were nearing the end or were barely beginning the cleansing of America's game. In fact, no one seemed sure if what was happening was very good, very bad or merely very, very sad.
Here, for the record, are the names of the first 14 players caught, in the order in which they were suspended: Dexter Manley, Redskins; Doug DuBose, 49ers; Kevin Gogan, Cowboys; Richard Reed, Broncos; Rob Riddick, Bills; Pat Saindon, Falcons; Greg Townsend, Raiders; Tony Collins, Colts; Lawrence Taylor, Giants; Terry Taylor, Seahawks; Emanuel King, Bengals; Daryl Smith, Bengals; Bruce Smith, Bills; John Taylor, 49ers. All were suspended for 30 days, except for three-time loser Collins, who is out of the NFL for the entire year and possibly longer.
Then there were the three players collared last week:
•Charles White, 30, of the Rams, the 1979 Heisman Trophy winner and the NFL's leading rusher last year, had been arrested by police in Brea, Calif., after a wild chase on foot in the summer of '87 and charged with being under the influence of a controlled substance (SI, Aug. 29). In order to stay with the Rams, he had to agree to undergo drug counseling and urinalysis daily, which was later changed to three times a week, for the rest of his career.
Last week White's test results indicated that he had drunk a large amount of alcohol, and, as league rules dictate, following this second substance-abuse transgression, he too was suspended for 30 days. At first White said he had only had a "few beers," but later he was contrite and seemingly resigned to his punishment. "I know I shouldn't have been fiddling around with any kind of alcohol," he said. "It's nobody's fault but mine." His wife, Judi, was outraged and said, "They never made it clear to Charles about alcohol. That's a legal substance. He thought it was just drugs he had to watch out for. I think they're on a witch hunt."
•Richard Dent, 27, the Bears' star defensive end and MVP of the 1986 Super Bowl, had what he said were "very, very low traces" of marijuana show up during a routine team drug test in August '87. Twice this year, in May and in August, he had tested clean. Even so, he was told that he would have to continue taking tests during the season because NFL policy mandates random examinations for two years after a player has shown positive results. Dent refused to be tested further. The NFL suspended him. He sued, challenging the league's right to punish him for not taking the test when it had no reason to suspect that he was now using drugs.
Dent's lawyer, Steve Zucker, said, "If a guy tests positive in August at training camp, I think that's probable cause to test him maybe the whole season. But to go back over a whole year, that's another question." Dent's suit charged that he had been given no opportunity to present his own evidence, to cross-examine witnesses or to ask questions about the way the tests were administered. Further, it said, "there appears to be substantial confusion about what [NFL drug] policies are and how they are enforced."
The day after Dent's suit was filed, the league suddenly lifted his suspension and arranged for a hearing to be held this week before commissioner Pete Rozelle to settle the matter.
•Calvin Thomas, 28, a running back for Chicago, tested positive for at least two substances—cocaine and marijuana. The NFL said that this was his second violation of substance-abuse policy; he had also tested positive in the summer of 1987. Thomas said he had never been informed of his first offense and thus didn't know that his career was in jeopardy. Bears president Michael McCaskey insisted that the team had informed Thomas of his positive test, but when Thomas's lawyer, Andy Knott, asked for documentation of that, McCaskey could not produce any and told Knott he would have to take his word for it. Thomas has signed up for an outpatient substance-abuse clinic. On Saturday a Cook County Circuit Court judge refused to hear Thomas's request to have the suspension lifted.
The murkiness of these three cases is more the rule than the exception in the NFL's new $1.5 million centralized drug-testing program. The league has tested all players in training camp since 1986, but until this year the follow-up tests on players whose training camp results were positive were done by team doctors, men beholden to their clubs rather than to the NFL. Often the doctors simply didn't report negative results. Indeed, in the previous two years there had been no suspensions as a result of these drug tests.