In response to allegations of widespread drug use among professional football players, the National Football League has prepared a letter with the signature of Commissioner Pete Rozelle defending the league's policy on drug abuse.
A copy of the letter obtained by The Washington Post details the NFL's drug abuse program. Written two weeks ago in response to an article by Don Reese appearing in the June 14 edition of Sports Illustrated, copies are being mailed in response to public inquiries about the extent of the problem and the NFL's response to it.
Jim Heffernan, NFL director of public relations, said the letter was necessary "because we were not given an opportunity by Sports Illustrated to present these facts, that we do have a program."
The last paragraph of the two-page letter says, "Regardless of how much the NFL does, there always will be the tragic cases like that of Don Reese. Unfortunately, his article contains many untruths and distortions of fact, but he makes one undeniable statement when he points out that the NFL does not employ urine tests for the detection of drug use and that the NFL Players Association has long been on record against such tests."
The implication of the letter is that the only reason there is no urine testing is the union's opposition, and that the league would favor it.
The letter catalogues the league's current and past efforts, which include: a mandatory prescription-drug reporting system by all clubs; mandatory reporting of any drug involvement by club personnel; disciplinary actions, including suspensions; the hiring of two drug consultants, including one former abuser, and a full-time member of the security department who had been a drug expert in law enforcement.
The letter says the league modified its policies two years ago to put more emphasis on assistance and less on punitive measures.
The letter touches on some of the reasons for potential drug abuse in the league: "The young men playing our sport earn more money and are in the public eye far more than the average person in the same age group. Add to that the competitive pressures that some athletes are more sensitive to than others and you have the ingredients for potential drug use, particularly cocaine, the substance evidently preferred by the affluent abuser."
Heffernan said he had "no ballpark figure" on the number of letters the league had received or the number of responses it had mailed out. "I don't think it's as big a response to this as some incidents that have taken place in games.