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In the last 13 months, Fralic has told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee examining anabolic steroids that as many as 75% of NFL linemen, linebackers and tight ends have used steroids. He has been named chairman of the NFL Players Association's (NFLPA) drug prevention committee, has urged new commissioner Paul Tagliabue to institute frequent random testing for steroids, and has been appointed to a committee that will assist new NFL drug adviser Dr. John A. Lombardo.
With the NFL drawing up a more extensive steroid-testing policy, Fralic thinks that usage among players might be decreasing. "But I'd still say at some point of the year a majority of linemen and linebackers are still using [steroids] to enhance their performance," he says.
Fralic's active stand against steroids has alienated some of the NFLPA hierarchy, including firebrand assistant executive director Doug Allen, who says Fralic speaks only for himself when he talks about steroids. And while some players view his stand as exemplary—"He's got guts to put himself on the line like he has," says Cincinnati Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason—others view him as incendiary, noting that no more than 7% of the league's players have turned up positive for steroids in the three years of testing. "If you polled 10 players in the NFL, nine out of the 10 would say it's more than the seven percent figure the NFL uses," Fralic says. "Whether it's 20 or 40 or 60 percent, it needs to be dealt with."
New York Giants center Bart Oates calls Fralic's estimate of NFL steroid use "hogwash. At the very most, I'd say the problem is about half of what he says."
"I don't think it's 50 percent of the linemen," says guard Tom Newberry of the Los Angeles Rams. "When I came into the league, there was more of a problem than there is now. There's new thinking now. People are educated. Before, no one talked about it or knew about it. I think some of the users might have learned."
In 1989 the NFL for the first time suspended players who tested positive for steroids. Thirteen of the approximately 1,600 players under NFL contract received the minimum four-game suspension. In the first two years of the program, first-time offenders were counseled and not suspended.
"Ninety to 95 percent of the players believe drugs have no part in the game, and they think they shouldn't be used," Newberry says. "I don't think guys get upset with Fralic. He's speaking his mind."
"I shouldn't be the issue here," Fralic says. "I don't want to be the issue. All I'm saying is the system needs to be fixed, and I want to draw attention to that. I'm a little uncomfortable with the attention. But the more people who know about this, who know the problem, the better chance you have of getting something done. Steroids are football's big secret. They're something that people will lie to the grave about because they cast a shadow over what players have accomplished."
Anabolic steroids are male hormones used by players to increase muscle size and strength and, thus, enhance performance. There are also potential health hazards associated with prolonged use of steroids—liver damage, increased risk of heart disease and sterility, and psychological effects.
Fralic believes that steroids are more dangerous to the game than street drugs. When two players are competing for the same job, he says, the one who is artificially inflated by steroids has an advantage over the player who refuses to use them. And so, by using anabolic steroids, Fralic believes, a player can adversely affect the livelihoods of other players. With street drugs, he says, a player adversely affects only his own livelihood.