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John Underwood
August 28, 1978
Where coaching stops, chemistry steps in with encapsulated fury. It's madness
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August 28, 1978

Speed Is All The Rage

Where coaching stops, chemistry steps in with encapsulated fury. It's madness

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Buried under the avalanche of the billions of dollars the game has generated, football's order has collapsed and chaos reigns. The only constant in today's game is brutality, and it is being fostered, not quelled. The game has reached the point where only violence holds, and only the most violent and most ruthless can survive on the AstroTurf long enough to collect their outsize paychecks.... Monday night's game is a classic example. Cincinnati's quarterback and the team's best receiver were both "taken out"—Ken Anderson by a late shot and the receiver by an elbow to the face. Both blows were absolutely intentional, designed from their inception to violently incapacitate the two leading Cincinnati players.... These days, [brutality] is the strategy.... With the best players gone, the game is no contest. I'm giving it up, after 40 years."

JOHN COLE, writing in the Maine Times, explaining last October why he was surrendering his place in front of the television set after a four-decade love affair with pro football.

In 1976 a 42-year-old professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego wrote a book about his experience as an unpaid locker-room analyst for the San Diego Chargers. In The Nightmare Season, Dr. Arnold Mandell detailed the shocking use of amphetamines by professional football players desperate to get any edge in a dog-eat-dog battle for dominance and dollars. The season was 1973; for a while, the nightmare was mainly Dr. Mandell's. His attempts to a
lert the National Football League to this monstrous situation, and to wean the players under his care from dangerous street "speed" by giving them prescription drugs backfired. In April of 1974 the NFL made (in Mandell's words) "sacrificial lambs" of the Chargers. At an awkward press conference, the league announced that it had fined and placed on probation the owner of the team ( Eugene V. Klein), its general manager and coach ( Harland Svare) and eight players and banned Mandell from further contact with players.

Unfortunately for the NFL, Mandell did not then shut up. Writing in Psychology Today in 1975, he said a "drug agony rages, silently as a plague, through the body of professional football," and that "a clumsy, ham-handed press conference at the end of the season would not solve a problem that is as occupational a disease in pro football as surely as silicosis is in mining."

When the upcoming publication of The Nightmare Season was announced in the fall of '76, Mandell says he was warned by Svare that "they"—he didn't say who "they" were—"would sue me or try to get my license."

The book came out.

And in September of 1977 the Los Angeles Times reported that Mandell said "the football industry persuaded the state of California" to take action against him for prescribing drugs illegally for non-medicinal purposes. Indeed, the state did take action, for whatever motive. After a 15-day hearing before an administrative officer, Mandell was found guilty of "overprescribing" drugs. He received a five-year probation but did not lose his license. His right to prescribe drugs was suspended.

When the decision was announced, psychiatrists and physicians across the country rallied around their colleague and launched Concerned Health Professionals for Mandell; a committee was formed to fund his appeal and overturn the ruling (an appeal is forthcoming). The Clinical Psychiatry News wondered if the penalties were "retribution for his fight against drug abuse in professional football."

In a letter to the L.A. Times, Dr. Emery Zimmerman, a physician and a narcotics expert, said the NFL's "attempt to divert attention by promoting a courtroom dissection of Mandell destroys my confidence in [the league's] ability to deal with this difficult problem. The issue may be too important to be left in [the league's] hands. If drugs increase gate receipts, then the owners, as indirect pushers, are curiously close to the position [in which] they have placed Mandell. [For myself,] I have no further interest to watch drug-crazed men bloody each other on Sunday afternoon."

Despite being put on probation, Mandell continues his crusade. "I haven't done what I set out to do," he says, "which is to get amphetamines out of football." He says they are "the single factor that causes unnecessary violence in pro football today"—not in low doses for fatigue or as appetite depressants, "but in enormous doses, as high as 150 milligrams. Higher than ever.

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