Of all the world's drugs, few are as addictive as sports. That viselike grip, Redskin Coach Jack Pardee once explained, "is because the highs are so high and the lows are so low." So it seems safe to assume that what led to Bob Hayes being sentenced to five years in prison yesterday for trafficking in cocaine began during a difficult withdrawal from the National Football League.

Hayes is a former world's fastest human, who could outrun everything but reality, a man who at times dominated two sports but who, at least partly, was a victim of the American Way of Athletic Life.

Nearly all of us -- fans, coaches, owners, reporters -- can often be rightly accused of being athletic pushers. Consider the language of sport: We talk of youngsters being "hooked" on basketball; an antidrug commercial, ironically, boosts sports as a "natural high."

We have a wonderful flair for shooting our youths with large doses of fantasy, for getting them passionate about sports. But shockingly few bother to consider the trip back down, that some sort of sporting phaseout -- or at least academic cushion -- is necessary for someone whose career ends before middle age.

"It's especially tough for someone, like Hayes, who's been at nearly the highest altitude -- and liked it there," said his former Dallas Cowboy teammate and current Oakland Raider, Pat Toomay.

"All of a sudden, everything's gone. It's like they told you, at age 30, that you couldn't write anymore, ever again. Know what I mean? Or they told a carpenter, at age 32, that he couldn't hammer a nail -- ever."

Baseball seems to take care of its own better than most sports. In the NFL, George Allen was one of the few executives who gave his players a shakedown season, at full pay to prepare for full-time return to the real world.

The break between Hayes and the Cowboys -- and later the 49ers -- was bitter. By most accounts, he was vastly underpaid as a player. And unlike the treatment accorded Bob Lilly and Cornell Green there was no Cowboy push toward a lucrative outside business or scouting job. Later, Hayes' first marriage went sour.

And he chose to plead guilty before a judge rather than a jury because, under Texas law, only a judge can grant probation to someone with a felony record. Hayes had been convicted in Florida of armed robbery while in college.

"Chetto stuff," said Richard Stebbins, who although not close to Hayes at the moment, offers the best insights about his impact on track and pro football. A child of Watts, Stebbins graduated from Grambling and handed Hayes the baton he carried to victory in the 400-meter relay during the '64 Olympics.

"I was the third man on the relay," said Stebbins, now an assistant football coach at Howard, "and I got the baton dead last on the exchange, because the leadoff man (Paul Drayton) got a cramp at the end of his exchange.

"When I passed off to Hayes (who also won the 100-meter dash), we were third -- and in lane seven, six yards behind France in lane two. So he really had to make up nine yards (because of the staggered lanes).

"On my last steps, I was really moving -- and Hayes only was in his 12th or 13th stride. But I could feel the force of him about to explode. One more step and he'd had been out of my reach. In 10 yards, he was going as fast as I was after 110.

"And he ran that final 110 yards in 8.4 seconds. Unbelievable. He made up all the distance and won going away. Just to have won under the circumstances would have been superb. But to annihilate 'em was out of the question.

"Bob was a true American hero. He and (swimmer) Don Schollander were the stars. And when we got back President Johnson invited all the goldmedal winners to D.C. and hosted a luncheon for us."

Hayes was the first sprinter to survive in the NFL. Most of those before him either were not tough enough or had steel hands. Literally, Hayes ran most teams out of their defenses.

"Before, passing had been finesse and timing, with Unitas to Berry the ultimate example," Stebbins said."(Cowboy Coach) Tom Landry, with Hayes, changed the whole complexion of defense. Hayes didn't need moves. He made speed the premium factor. And when everyone switched to zone defenses, Hayes stretched them, made them vulnerable underneath."

Hayes holds all the Cowboy receiving and punt-return records, although his only NFL record remains five fair catches in National Conference championship games. How strange, the swiftest of all receivers' permanent-record NFL mark is for standing still.

The Cowboy executive who hired Hayes, paid him and ultimately dealt him to the 49ers, Tex Schramm, said: "Bob achieved his greatest heights at a very young age -- and it was doubly difficult for him because he didn't have the intelligence to handle it.

"So his return to reality would be doubly difficult. The tragedy for him is that people tried to use him as an entre, or a front. And he did not have the ability to select the good from the others.

"He was one of the first players who took a lot of deferred salary, which I thought was good for him. But I guess even that evaporated. I know he was in and out of a helluva lot of deals."

How much should a team do to help a man readjust to a nonsports life for perhaps the first time since childhood? Or does the obligation end when his useful life to the team ends? As Stebbins, whose pro football career with Houston ended when he was drafted into the Army after the next-to-last exhibition game in '68, said:

"There isn't a transition, just an abrupt falling out of the bottom. The psychological trauma is unreal. And sports is very exploitative."

Indeed it is. High schools that treat football as a quasireligion provide sinfully inadequate health care for their players. College recruiters make all manner of unrealistic promises -- and when a player signs they hustle to lure someone even better at his position.

What is more exploitative than the ACC basketball tournament, where all but a few hundred seats go to fat-cat contributors? The NFL could help overcome its drug mysteries with postgame testing. It ignores the subject.

"But you have to temper this," Schramm said, "with the fact that when you're dealing with athletes a certain segment simply is not prepared to listen to those who have been there before, even older players on the team."

Except for improving a pension plan he called "next to worthless," Toomay was unable to immediately suggest what the Schramms of pro sports could do to provide at least a brief postcareer cushion.

"Usually, it's the middle-level player who has the problems, not guys like Hayes," he said. "The tendency is to say: 'I'm different. It won't happen to me.' And off you go into oblivion. Maybe that's the price you pay.

"The question is whether it's worth it.

"The answer is: I don't know.

"I often ask myself if I really had a choice coming out of college (Vanderbilt), having played sports since I was 8. Coming out of school, the money was better than you could make -- I would have been an engineer -- not quite twice as good.

"You make it and time passes -- and then the big money stops. You wonder. At the peak of your career, you always have the best seat in a restaurant. You can't buy a drink. Then, all of a sudden, when you need somebody to buy you a drink, nobody's there."