The league at times has seemed reluctant to grant hearings at all, much less do so quickly. When Taylor took the NFL to court, his attorney, Robert M. Sulkin, described Taylor's frustration in dealing with NFL headquarters: "When Mr. Taylor received the notice of his suspension, his agent. Jack Mills, called the league's lawyer and was told that there is no right to an appeal.... A few days [later], a letter is written by Mr. Mills on behalf of Terry Taylor requesting all relevant documentation so he could attack that drug test, because it was erroneous. We still didn't get the results. A week later, we are told by the league, wait a minute, you can appeal to Commissioner Rozelle.... The NFL's had it every which way over the last two weeks."
During the hearing on Taylor's request for a temporary restraining order, Judge Dimmick questioned the NFL's attorney, William R. Squires III, about Rozelle's power in drug cases: "So you're telling me that Pete Rozelle has the ultimate and the total authority to suspend, and that he can lift the suspension for any reason he sees fit?" Squires replied, "Well, you put that in a sort of draconian fashion, and I think my short answer to you is, yes, that's true."
Rozelle certainly has not used his considerable power to assure that possible drug abusers receive the evaluation and treatment that the league promises. During the Thomas hearing, Tennant spoke of what he said was the NFL's commitment to "trying to identify players who may have a problem, to get them help, not to arrest them or not to get them involved in criminal justice. We are trying to diagnose who might be dependent and need help."
However, nobody tried very hard in Thomas's case. During the same hearing, Thomas's lawyer, Philip Parenti, elicited an acknowledgment from Bears trainer Fred Caito that the urine samples of Thomas and other players had been kept in an unlocked, unattended refrigerator at the team's practice facility in Lake Forest, Ill.
Parenti established that the NFL drug program was numbingly unresponsive. Tennant testified that after Thomas's two supposedly positive 1987 tests, he wrote the Bears team physician, Dr. Clarence Fossier, and asked that Thomas be evaluated for possible drug dependency. Thomas was never evaluated. Tennant said that communications between him and the Bears had been hindered because of that year's 24-day players' strike, which started on September 22. But that was nearly seven weeks after Thomas's first league-identified positive, surely enough time to perform an examination. At other moments Tennant implied that the Bears had fouled up:
PARENTI: Do you think that was right if Fossier did not even talk to Calvin Thomas one time after he got this August and September '87 test result?...Do you think that's medically sound?
TENNANT: I would like to say something good about people wherever I can.
The inquiry into Thomas's case ended with Rozelle's refusing to lift his suspension. Thomas denies that he has ever had a substance-abuse problem, but his former agent, Knott, fears otherwise. "I want him to get help," says Knott.
Because Thomas did have one true positive for cocaine and marijuana—on Aug. 30, 1988—some people may have difficulty feeling sympathy for him, but the handling of his case belies the league's claims that the health of the players is its No. 1 priority. The most distressing fact that emerged from Thomas's hearing was that he received no evaluation or counseling until a full year after Tennant first suspected he might be dependent on drugs. His testing took place in a medical void. When asked if the failure of any doctor to discuss drugs with Thomas in 1987 violated NFL policy, Tennant said, "That may be true. And that's why there's follow-up testing."
More testing seems to be Tennant's answer to everything. The NFL's reasonable-cause testing is an open bear trap that can snap shut for almost any reason. It is revealing that a player is subject to reasonable-cause testing even when he volunteers for substance-abuse treatment, and thereafter he may be suspended the first time he tests positive. Instead of encouraging a player to seek help, the program may well discourage him.