"What you've got to be concerned about is an amphetamine gap between you and the opposition . . . If their pupils are dilated and they're jabbering away in paragraphs, fidgeting and ranting and licking their lips, those are pretty good clues there's an amphetamine gap. It's disconcerting to look across the line and see that."
- An active National Football League veteran who says he does not use stimulants.
The party line of the National Football League, as one might expect, is that there is no substantial drug-abuse problem in professional football, and that stimulant use is a rare aberration from the norm. Privately, however, a number of players tell a different tale.
Between a quarter and a third of the players on the Washington Redskins regularly took stimulants on game days last season, several members of the team told The Washington Post.
A similar percentage of players on other veteran teams routinely use amphetamines to psych themselves up for games, according to interviews with players on teams other than the Redskins.
"I would think that figure is high," Redskin Coach Jack Pardee said. "We don't condone it in any way. We don't want anyone to do it. There's no place in sports for it.
"To me, the drug situation is not nearly the problem in the league it was several years ago. It's something the club and the league have strictly enforced rules about, and we watch it closely."
Regulations enacted by the NFL in 1971 and 1973 instituted strict monitoring of team medicine cabinets and prescriptions. These rules, and the subsequent hiring of a pharmacological consultant to scrutinize drug purchase and dispersal orders and investigate any deviations from normal standards, have virtually abolished supply of amphetamines by team doctors and trainers, and have decreased the abuse of legistimate medications.
But rather than eradicating amphetamine use, these measures have only curtailed it to a degree and driven the practice underground.
Intimidated by the NFL Players Association, which staunchly opposes any urine or saliva testing of players, the NFL has balked at implementing the one procedure likely to be an effective deterrent to amphetamine use.
"I've been in the league seven years and the use of stimulants has gotten more secretive every year," says Redskin tight end Jean Fugett, who declined to estimate the extent of amphetamine use on his or any other team. "When I was a rookie (with the Dallas Cowboys in 1972), everybody kind of joked about it and knew who was taking stuff. It's gotten much more private since the league cracked down."
Adds former Redskin defensive back Brig Owens, "When I first come into the league (1965), you could get the stuff from the docs or trainers. Now those avenues are tightly controlled. But it's likely anything else, if you want pep pills, you can get them somehow."
Since the so-called "Charger scandal" of 1973 - when eight players plus the owner, general manager and front office of the San Diego Chargers were fined a total of $40,000 for violations of NFL drug regulations - the subject of amphetamine use in pro footabll, admittedly widespread in the 1960s and early '70s, has been largely out of sight.
But despite assertions of the league hierarchy and team physicans to the contrary, it is neither out of mind nor out of existence.
"It varies widely from team to team, and for the league as a whole I'd say it's down substantially from a few years ago, but there's still quite a bit of use of pep pills - Bendedrine, Dexedrine, methamphetamine, all the old standbys," said an active NFL veteran.
"I think last season, with the physical strain of the 16-game season, and the Thursday night games after the Sunday games, and the new rules that kind of shackle the defensive people, the use of stimulants increased."
Jack Danahy, the former FBI agent who has headed NFL Security for the past 10 years, dismissed the "quarter-to-a-third" figure as "a bunch of baloney . . . unsupported by the reports we get from our sources."
But Charlie Jackson, the drug-abuse expert on Danahy's staff, says those figures "would not shock me, because you're dealing with a situation that has manifested itself over the years . . ."
In the absence of testing or any game-day inspection of players for the symptoms of stimulant use, Jackson acknowledged in a lenghy interview, the NFL can be certain only that amphetamines are not being supplied by team doctors and trainers.
"Let me put it this way. Since 1973, when we instituted the monitoring program, we have taken away the means of the ballpayer to obtain stimulants from within his own team structure. It doesn't preclude the possibility that he could go out on the street and get drugs illegally. I don't think anybody is that naive, to believe that doesn't happen," Jackson said.
". . . When think our drug use is down, considerably down. But I don't deny that stimulants may be used by some players. As a veteran ballplayer gets older, there is always that urge to try to increase his performance level through some articial means. The fastest way that a ballplayer will try to improve it - history will tell you this - is through the use of Simulants."
How does the NFL keep surveillance against amphetamine use by players?
"We don't have any rule of thumb or organized method of inspection on the day of a game," Jackson said. "The only way we can check if an individuals is under the influence of illegal medications is through the skillful eyes of the team physician and trainer . . . We very definitely have got the cooperation of the teams in the league on this thing, though. I feel very good about that."
Jackson would not comment, however, on whether any team had ever turned in or even raised suspicions about one of its own players.
"When a trainer has got X number of ballplayers to minister to regularly, taping and treating regular injuries and things like that, it's difficult to expect him to start checking eyeballs and looking for slurred speech and other indicators," Jackson acknowledged.
"Any time we have any of our players caught using drugs - and we still have them caught - I consider that a problem. I don't think it's an epidemic. I don't think it's a crisis, but it's definitely a problem and we're concerned about it," said Danahy.
Danahy was referring to several NFL players who have been arrested and convicted for possession or trafficking in drugs, particularly cocaine.
But the most worrisome drug problem in the NFL is neither the sale of and social use of "recreational drugs" such as cocaine or marijuana, nor the once-common abuse of potent and physically addictive of analgesics such as Demerol, which "hooked" a number of players in the 1960s.
The real drug problem in the NFL is the continued use of stimulants by players psyching themselves up for a game.
Amphetamine use is more of an enduring problem in football than in baseball, basketball or hockey because of the nature of the game itself.
Unique to football is the occupational advantage of a drug that makes the taker want to go out and hit people, that accentuates his animal instincts and makes him more reckless, fearless and oblivious to pain than he would be otherwise.
It is no coincidence that the "special teams," who see action in the most violent game situations (kickoffs and punts), have long been known within the NFL as "the benny squads."
The heaviest amphetamine usage, it is generally agreed, is among older players.
Dr. Arnold Mandell, a research psychiatrist who worked as an unpaid consultant to the Chargers for 2 1/2 years until being barred from future contacts with the team as a result of the 1973 scandal, has suggested a physiological explanation for this phenomenon: "(It) seems related to the fact that certain brain chemicals, particularly norepinephrin - an amphetamine-like chemical - naturally decreases with age."
In laymen's terms, he puts it this way: "At 19, you can psyche yourself into the state of controlled rage in which football is best played fairly easily, but at 26 it's a little harder for most individauls, and 29 it's really hard, and at 35 they just can't do it. They can't get that angry. So they take amphetamine to induce that state of mind articially."
There is little dispute that in the late 1960s and early '70s, amphetamine use was epidemic in the NFL, and dressing rooms an hour before game time were regularly filled with jungle nosies of retching, breast-beating, and cresting group paranoic rage.
A spate of critical books by disenchanted former players - Dave Meggyssey's "Out of Their League," Chip Oliver's "High for the Game," Bernie Parish's "They Call It a Game," and Johnny Sample's "Confessions of a Dirty Ballplayer," to name to few - appeared between 1970 and 1972, graphically depicting rampant drug abuse in the NFL.
But the "drug problem" really became a matter of urgent concern to the league only when big money became involved, in the form of several lawsuits.
Former Charger defensive lineman Houston Ridge sued his old employer and team physician in 1970, charging he had been given drugs "not for the purpose of treatment and cure, but for the purpose of stimulating mind and body so he would perform more violently as a professional." He evenrually was awarded $302,000.
One piece of evidence turned up in discovery proceedings in the Rdidge case was the bulk drug-order forms for the Chargers for 1968-69. The team purchased enough amphetamines to supply 60 to 70 milligrams to every player each week.
Ken Gray, an ALL-Pro guard for the St. Louis Cardinals who was the antithesis of the counterculture, antiestablishment book writers, filed suits totaling $3.5 million early in 1971, claiming the Cardinals, the club's trainers and doctors had given him "potent, illegal and dangerous drugs . . . so that he would perform more violently."
Gray eventually settled out of court for a small fraction of the award he sought.
These court cases helped lead to investigations by the NFL, which issued new drug regulations in 1971 and 1973, and publicly pilloried the Chargers after the 1973 season.
Eight San Diego players were fined amoutns ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, Harland Svare, the general manager and ex-coach, was fined $5,000 and placed on probation for "failure to exercise proper supervisory controls over the activities of the players and others having entry to the football operations," and the team itself was fined $20,000.
The charges against the individual players were never made public by the NFL, but it has since been learned that at least half of them were docked for smoking marijuana.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mandell was barred from future contacts with the team and later reprimanded for having written large amphetamine prescriptions for 11 players. Interestingly, none of these players was fined or disciplined.
Many observers believe the Chargers were made ritual whipping boys for the benefit of the Special Subcommittee on Investigations of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, chaired by Rep. Harley O. Staggers (D-W.Va.).
In April, 1972, Staggers' subcommittee had undertaken an investigation of drug abuse in sports, particularly the major professional leagues in the U.S. Staggers decided against holding public hearings, but met with the commissioners and security chiefs of the various leagues.
In accordance with the Staggers subcommitte's recommendations, teams in the NFL, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League now are required to report all drug purchases and distribution to the league office, down to the last pill.
The NFL retains a prominent pharmacologist - Dr. Walter F. Riker of the Cornell University Medical School - as a consultant. He runs computer checks on the order and prescription forms to determine that there are no unusual patterns. If there are, he contacts the team physician for an explanation.
"So far, there has always been a logical explanation for anything unusual that Dr. Riker has turned up," said Danahy.
NFL security representatives make unannounced spot inspections during the season to make sure that a team's drug supply is maintained properly under lock and key, and that there are no discrepancies between actual inventory and reports on file with the league.
"They drop in, identify themselves, and in effect, count pills," said Danahy.
The league also arranges lectures on drug abuse to be delivered to each team during training camp, as part of an ongoing educational program. And in 1975, Danahy added to his security staff Jackson, who had 15 years experience as an undercover agent working in drug abuse and for three years headed a tristate federal drug abuse strike force in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
But the one Staggers committee recommendation that conspicuously was not implemented was that calling for drug testing.
Urine or saliva tests have been vehemently resisted by the NFL Players Association and the league has shown no inclination to buck the association on this issue.
"The players have a collective-bargaining agreement, and I think there would be serious repercussions if we started testing without discussing it with the player's association-especially without any real basis for doing so," said Danahy.
Why does the players' association oppose testing?
"The standard line is that it's an invasion of the players' privacy. There's a certain sense of humilation, of degradation, to having to give a urine sample like a racehorse," said one player.
"No one wants to feel, or admit, that the player is a chunk of horsemeat. If they made you (urinate), it would open the league up to all the charges that Meggyssey and Oliver and all those guys made about profootball being a dehumanizing experimence.
"Also, and this is a very real factor, if they eliminated stimulants in the NFL, it would shorten a lot of careers. There are guys depending on amphetamines to hang in the league, and they don't want those extra few years taken away from them."
Former Redskin center Len Hauss, a 14-year NFL veteran until he was dropped at the start of last season, is one of three members of the Safety and Welfare Committee of the NFL Players Association. Throughout his career, he maintained that what a player did with his body was his own business, and he still feels the same way.
"As a rule, ballplayers are very slow to judge their peers, because they don't want their peers judging them," he said.
Hauss said that he thinks estimates that a quarter to a third of the players on some teams still take stimulants "is a little high," then added: "But if they were, so what? I certainly don't think there's a problem if they do or if they don't. I really think amphetamines are tremendously overrated, as if they change people. I don't think there's anything to it."
"Medically, amphetamine has been proven to be dangerous," said a concerned player. "It also leads to other things. If you're eating 50 milligrams of amphetamine before a game, you've got to come down off of that. So you take something else to take the edge off - usually alcohol or a depressant.
"I've seen guys come to practice on Tuesday or Wednesday still suffering the after effects of what they took for Sunday's game, and they are just in agony, even suicidal. It's pathetic. In the meantime, who knows what abuse they've given their wife and kids?
"A player on amphetamines is a menace not only to himself, but to the other guys on the field," he went on. "You get guys out of control on that stuff, moving at a high rate of speed, and the impact can be devastating - especially on a late hit. The whistle blows, and you ease up, and here comes this guy who's unconscious on 'speed' and he creams you."
"Amphetamine use by football players is a very difficult thing to explain to a normal, sane human being who doesn't play football for a living," said a former Redskin, who started taking pep pills his second year in the NFL and continued to use them for most of his career.
"You have to ask yourself the question, 'How much does winning mean to you?' If it means everything, you'll take stuff if you feel you have to. You just have to be in that situation to understand it.
"I don't judge people who took amphetamines. It was part of the game. If that's what it took to win, you did it," continued the now-retired Redskin. "Again, I have a hard time making that sound right to people, but that's just the way it was." CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By David Seavey for The Washington Post; Picture, Brig Owens: "When I first came into the league, you could get the stuff from the docs or trainers." By Larry Morris - The Washington Post