Don Reese of the New Orleans Saints and Randy Crowder of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Challenging the authority of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to discipline them in a drug case and the issue has gone to arbitration, it was learned yesterday.
The former Miami Dolphin defensive linemen served a year in the of selling cocaine to an undercover agent. They were released in August and at that time Rozelle announced an arrangement for their return to football.
It specific that if they were signed, $5,000 of their salaries would be donated to a drug rehabiltation program in Florida. The formula also provided that any club signing one of them would give up a No. 3 draft choice to the Dolphins.
The athletes filed a grievance in late September through the NFL Players Association, a spokesman for the NFL Management Council confirmed yesterday.
He said the council answered the grievance and there was a discussion last week with the player-club relations committee, and both sides agreed that the case should be ruled on by James Scearce, and arbitrator named in the collective-bargaining agreement between the union and club owners.
The plaintiffs are disputing Rozelle's power to discipline players for actions off the field or in the off-season.
Reese and Crowder were suspended in May 1977 pending disposition in court of the drug charges. They filed a grievance, contending the suspendion was unfair until there was a court ruling.
Rozelle said yesterday that, when the two players were signed by their present clubs, Jay Moyer, in-house counsel for the NFL, gave copies of the commissioner's written decision to agents for Reese and Crowder. The commissioner recalled that he personally talked to the agents the next day and quoted them as making remarks such as "fine" and adding that their clients "were very happy for the chance to play again."
The commissioner cited the agents as saying they bad no complaints and that the players were willing to donate the specified $5,000 ti a drug rehabilitation program, "subject to our approval."
Rozelle said the arbitration procedure will not prevent Reese and Crowder from continuing to play for their present clubs. He said he interpreted the challenged to his authority as meaning he would not be able to fine, suspend or discipline players for actions off the field "in or our of season," if successful.
When Anthony De Cello, Pittsburgh attorney for Crowder, reported a contract had been signed with the Buccaneers, he quoted the Penn State player as saying, "I am extremely happy that Tampa Bay gave me a second chance in life. I will not disappoint Tampa Bay, the fans or Commissioner Rozelle."