When Joe Lavender got on the plane in San Diego last week to leave for the Redskin training camp, his close friend and adviser gave him a message.
"I told him," said John Willis, a professor of law and economics at San Diego City College, "that it's difficult, but you have to leave it here. There are a lot of people behind you, praying for you."
What Lavender left behind is a living nightmare, a September date in court when he will be tried for allegedly assaulting three police officers in El Cajon, Calif., during an argument over an auto-repair bill.
He also left behind a medical nightmare, in which he came, as he puts it, "too close to dying to breath easy," because of massive internal bleeding from a stomach ulcer.
What Lavender faces, however, is an uncertain future. He said today he is in camp along with the rest of the team veterans "ready to concentrate on football, on my job and not let anything else bother me."
But that may prove a tougher challenge than covering Drew Pearson one on one, since he must return to San Diego Sept. 17 for his trial. The Redskins play the Gians that night in RFK Stadium.
"If anyone can hold up, I think Joe can," said Willis. "You couldn't ask to know a nicer, more wonderful person than Joe Lavender. He's a pro and that is how he is acting toward all this."
Willis said that another medical problem - Lavender has a salt deficiency in his blood that can cause mood changes and depression - is "well under control. He had a mood change that day (of the altercation with the police) and now he is being made to pay the penalty."
Lavender said he isn't taking any medication for the salt problem. "There is no trouble, other than I still sweat a lot and need to replace the salt," he said. Redskin officials feel they understand his needs.
"Joe's people have filled us in completely," said General Manager Bobby Beathard. "We are aware of it and we will help Joe in any way we can.
"This is a difficult situation for him. It would be one thing if he was a rowdy guy, but he isn't. He's a good guy, a first-class citizen."
Lavender, nicknamed "Bird" by his teammates, is one of the most quiet, good-natured players on the squad, far more comfortable reading a book than being interviewed. Today, he appeared in good spirits, constantly talking about his goals for this season.
"I'm about 50 percent of where I'd like to be physically," he said. "I haven't pushed myself that hard yet, I've been trying to take things grandual-like. But my stomach feels fine and it will hold up. Now I'll use camp to get into the kind of shape I need to be in."
Lavender underwent surgery in the spring to stop the massive internal bleeding and to correct that stomach ulcer. The incident still causes him to shake his head.
"I had been feeling low for a few days but I thought it was fatigue," said Lavender, who had just been released from the hospital after treatment for the salt deficiency. "This one day, my wife had just left on a trip and the phone rang. I went to answer it and I blanked out.
"It was my brother (Tim) at the other end. He realized, I guess, what happened, and he came right over to the house. That's when I went to the hospital.
"I had had pain but I'm used to pain in this business. You don't get that alarmed over it. You figure it will go away. This time it didn't."
Lavender says he sees no reason "why I can't play up to my usual standards. I feel good, the stomach doesn't hurt and the doctors say I'm fine.
"Camp will give me the kind of regimentation I need to get back into shape. But I never expected to feel this good now, not after losing all that blood (five pints). I've just been working out about a month.
"They knew I was sick, that I wasn't right, but I had a lot of tests and they couldn't come up with an answer. Not until I blanked out.
"There are a lot of things that have happened to me (medically) that I don't have together right now. I've been concerned more with getting myself together."
Lavender said he has "done all I can do" about his legal problems until the trial. "It's in the hands of others," he said, meaning lawyer James Pierik, whom Willis describes "as one of the best lawyers in California. Joe knows he is in excellent hands, the best."
The incident began when Lavender arrived at the auto dealership to pick up his car, which had been repaired.He asked that the bill be sent to his home and the dealership refused. An argument ensued.
By the time it was over, Lavender had been arrested and charged with three felony counts of assault on a police officer, two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery on citizens and one misdemeanor count of resisting a police officer.
"All we can do now is wait for the trial," Willis said. "I said before this is racism at its best and I still say it. If he were white and this had happened in El Cajon, it would never have gone to trial.
"We wanted a delay in the trial to after the season, but it wasn't granted. Joe might be put in the awful position of having to play, get on a plane, fly to the trial, fly back to Washington on the weekend and play another game.
"We hope the trial doesn't last more than a week, but you never know. There is no reason for him to be placed in that kind of a spot, but if it happens, I think he will hold up okay."
A motion for a change of venue has been granted, so the trial will be held in San Diego, not El Cajon. "I think that will help," said Willis.
"Joe has never had a parking ticket before, that's what is so ridiculous about this. He's determined to clear himself and to play up to par on the field. He got a late start but I'll tell you this, he never worked harder trying to catch up. He pushed himself.
"The salt problem shouldn't cause him any more trouble. We caught it in time. We've known about it for maybe two years and we've been treating it. This should be his greatest season, if we could clear up the legal problem."
Coach Jack Pardee made four cuts after Saturday's scrimmage against the Colts: Adrryl Drake, a wide receiver from Western Kentucky; Gene Washington, a wide reciever from Georgia; Tony Hernandez, a cornerback from Brigham Young, and Greg McAleenan, a safety from Williams...Jeff Williams has been switched from tackle to offensive guard.... Everyone scheduled to report for camp today showed up, bringing the squad total to 85. The lone major injury belongs to tight end Reggie Haynes, still recovering from knee surgery. "We just have to hope he doesn't get to far behind," said Pardee. "He is in the midst of rehabilitating it. Until he builds up the knee to full size, it would be risky injury to let him work out. It may take a week or four weeks"...Coy Bacon lined up ahead of Karl Lorch at left end today while Pete Wysocki was at Chris Hanburger's old linebacker spot. Danny Buggs ran with the first offensive unit ahead of John McDaniel at wide receiver...John Riggins is sporting a nifty goatee...Pardee praised the play of defensive back Ray Waddy, who had one interception "and was all over the field," and quarterback Kim McQuilken after viewing films of the scrimmage.