AMERICA'S WARRIOR HEROES, the handsomely paid athletes of big-league sports, had better clean up their act--of drugs. Again, this time in the wake of a grim first-person account of drug abuse by defensive lineman Don Reese in Sports Illustrated, there is widespread concern about the influence of drugs and those who push them in the locker rooms of the pros. Even leaving aside the obviously strong feelings of Mr. Reese about the subject, or about the National Football League, every major sports league has been embarrassed by addict-athletes.
The extent of drug abuse in the pros is not at all clear, but the impact on professional sports certainly is --it's threatening whatever credibility they still enjoy. Even assuming that drugs are no more prevalent among athletes than in any other occupational group, every story of a fallen idol is damaging to the young who look to these players as role models.
Were it not for this influence of sports on youth --which, like it or not, is here to stay--there might be little reason to care what these grown men do to themselves. If they can't perform, that's tough; it's private industry, anyway. Besides, Babe Ruth was hardly a pace-setting teetotaler or scholar of etiquette, but he could pound that ball . . . and so on.
All that is true. And the presumed majority of today's professional athletes who don't use drugs can choose simply to ignore the habits of their addicted or dealing teammates. But they do so at their peril-- not only because this ignores the damage done to the reputation of the pros, but also because it encourages a criminal element to influence personal performances as well as team results.
There is one effective method of monitoring and coping with major league drug abuse: urinanalysis. But no, say most of the players and their unions, this would be an assumption of guilt, an invasion of privacy and a change in working conditions not included in union contracts.
Some constructive steps have been taken by the leagues, team owners and players to treat drug addiction as a health problem, and to emphasize help rather than punishment. And ultimately the decision to use drugs or quit rests with each individual player. But if drug abuse is to be addressed as a genuine health problem, all players should accept independent, confidential testing as normal procedure and not as an accusation of misbehavior.