Carl Eller, a former Minnesota Viking defensive lineman and self-confessed drug user, ended a visit to the Washington training camp today after trying to persuade Redskins management that it must assume a larger role in identifying and helping troubled players.
Eller, who now is a drug consultant to the National Football League, spent 45 minutes talking to the players. But he had an almost two-hour meeting with coaches and staff members, emphasizing his concern about their role in ending the NFL's drug problem.
In an interview, Eller said he was trying to change the attitude of management that players addicted to drugs or alcohol are bad and should be discarded immediately. Instead, he said his message is the opposite. "We are talking about dependent players with an illness. This illness has to be treated the same way as any other illness. Punishment is not a deterrent to the illness.
"It's a matter now of educating coaches and management. We are taking the penalty out of this. The basic principle of the league's (drug help) program is that we are going to help these players, not hurt them."
Eller, who was invited by the Redskins, is the second NFL representative in the last week to come here with a message about drug use by athletes. Charles Jackson, assistant director of security and drug abuse, also had separate meetings with the players and coaches, although Eller said he thought today's lecture "was done in a different manner than what they heard before. I can talk to them from a personal standpoint, as someone who has been through it. I cover a lot broader context. I try to help them understand a lot about themselves."
This was Eller's sixth training camp talk this summer. He expects to visit at least another 10 camps, a sharp contrast to last year, when he made only six stops. But he admits demand for his time has increased since the league drug problem began receiving extraordinary public exposure the last two months.
"I came (to the league) in May of 1981 with a proposal," Eller said. "But this (exposure) has helped me sell what I am doing. I was going out, but on a slow individual pace.
"I've had a very enthusiastic reception from the players. Some come up and admit they have a problem and want to talk about it. Some say they are glad this is going on. Others think it's been helpful in raising the level of concern. Keep in mind we are talking about a very small percentage of players with problems. But a lot of other players have been affected by the publicity."
Eller refused to say how many players have come forward the last few months to seek help. And he admitted that the players' fear that their confession will not be kept confidential remains a major problem.