SI Vault
Edited by Peter King and Craig Neff
February 05, 1990
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February 05, 1990



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After SI detailed an assortment of irregularities in the NFL's drug-testing program last summer (July 10), the NFL did nothing substantial in response. The league did not refute the facts of the story. Nor did it investigate NFL drug adviser Dr. Forest Tennant Jr. According to court and league documents, former employees and other sources cited by SI, Tennant had breached confidentiality, failed to follow proper procedures and otherwise violated accepted standards both in overseeing the NFL's testing program and in operating a string of methadone clinics in California. "We don't have the resources for a systematic investigation," league counsel Jay Moyer told SI in December when asked if the NFL was doing anything about Tennant.

Last week many of the same allegations surfaced again in a television report by Roberta Baskin of station WJLA in Washington, D.C. The NFL's response was a comedy of contradictions and nondenying denials. The league's director of communications, Joe Browne, in trying to squelch what quickly grew into the biggest story of an otherwise dull week, said that Baskin's report contained the same "misleading information...half-truths and rumors" as SI's story and that the allegations in SI's piece had been "refuted." Browne apparently hadn't spoken to Moyer.

New NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue reacted as if the news was anything but old. When asked about allegations in the WJLA report that players' urine samples had been mishandled and mislabeled, he said the league would look into it. The NFL could have looked into it six months ago, when SI first reported the charges.

SI found the NFL to be erratic in enforcing its drug policy; the league had in certain cases ignored positive tests for cocaine and in other cases taken action against players whose urine contained traces of marijuana byproducts too minute to be conclusive. Baskin suggested that this selective enforcement may have been based on race. She reported that in the last 10 years three star quarterbacks, all white, had tested positive for cocaine but received no mandatory counseling or treatment. She also aired a charge by former Tennant employee Gordon Griffith that the NFL had a hit list of black players whom the league wanted to catch through testing.

Tagliabue called these allegations "a smear." Indeed, Baskin shouldn't have been so specific in identifying the three players; there haven't been that many white star quarterbacks in the NFL over the last decade, and she put them all under suspicion. SI found that both black and white players had tested positive for drugs and yet received no counseling or treatment. That suggests that the NFL drug program isn't racist, just incompetent.

Tagliabue said that he will review Tennant's work and seek minority doctors for the drug program in an effort to increase trust in it among black players. How swiftly things change. When Baskin was preparing her report, NFL officials refused to speak with her. She says they told her that they "didn't have time for any negative stories before the Super Bowl."

Credit Denver coach Dan Reeves for not adding to the game's overcommercialization. When a corporation (which Reeves would not identify) offered him $10,000 to wear a sweater vest with the firm's logo on it while on the sidelines, Reeves said no thanks. He wore a coat and tie instead. Actually, considering how thoroughly the 49ers trounced the Broncos, Reeves may have been doing the company a favor.


Last Saturday, running back Franco Harris and linebacker Jack Lambert became the sixth and seventh members of the Steeler dynasty of the 1970s to be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They join late owner Art Rooney, quarterback Terry Bradshaw, defensive tackle Joe Greene, linebacker Jack Ham and cornerback Mel Blount in the Hall. Center Mike Webster and coach Chuck Noll will be shoo-ins when they become eligible, so the Steelers of the '70s will eventually have at least nine men in Canton. The only team with more Hall of Famers from a single era in its history is the Packers of the mid-1960s, with 10.

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