Officials of National Football League teams yesterday reacted favorably to Commissioner Pete Rozelle's decision to indefinitely suspend Baltimore quarterback Art Schlichter for gambling activities. At the same time, many executives said they didn't believe the league had a widespread gambling problem, a view that also was reflected in a series of interviews over the past week by The Washington Post.
"I have total confidence in Pete Rozelle's ability to make a correct judgment," said Chicago General Manager Jim Finks. "I am sure he has found out everything he could about the situation. You knew that some decision had to made, and this one doesn't surprise me."
Most league officials said they would be stunned if any investigations revealed an NFL gambling problem equal to the difficulties the league is experiencing with player drug use.
"To tell you the truth, I was surprised as anything when I first heard about Schlichter having gambling problems," Finks said. "Maybe I am naive, but I think I've been around this league long enough to know pretty much what is going on. You just don't hear much about gambling. I think it is in-bred among the players from early on, that gambling while playing is wrong."
George Young, New York Giants general manager, said he thought Rozelle's decision "is very plausible. It's very thoughtful. He's addressed the problem but he also has given the player an opportunity to redeem himself. There is no sense in making this long term if things will work themselves out in the short term."
Young said he and the Giants "are very careful about looking out for signs of gambling among the players. But it's difficult to identify people who are gambling. With drugs, you can give players a test. But if a guy is gambling, he doesn't walk around with a big 'G' on his forehead.
"You don't hear players discussing gambling or even the point spread. But there wasn't a hell of a lot of indication of a drug problem before it happened either.
"Will this be a deterrent to other players? Now you are getting into a whole different, psychological issue. But you have to hope players are smart enough and mature enough to see what happened here and to realize this is a serious problem."
Cleveland owner Art Modell said he thought the decision "was a combination showing compassion for the boy while also preserving the integrity of the game. I think it was a wise course of action. If the boy shows he wants to help himself, I'm sure he'll be back in the game soon. Or he could be out for life. It's up to him now.
"I just don't believe there is a lot of this type of gambling activity going on in the league. You can't keep a secret that long in this business, mainly because the bookmakers who would report any big swing in odds. I remember in 1964, I left one of our practices just as Frank Ryan twisted an ankle. Twelve minutes later, when I arrived at my office, I already had a call from the league. They wanted to know why our game that week had been taken off the boards."
Coach Joe Walton of the New York Jets said that he "feels very strongly about our league and that we have to keep it clean of these kinds of things. Pete Rozelle has done a good job of that.
"I think it is good for the players to know to what extent they will be punished if they get involved in gambling. It's already spelled out pretty darn clearly by the league already, so they shouldn't have any question about it."
General Manager Bobby Beathard of the Redskins said he expected Rozelle to take "some firm action in this situation. So I really don't have any reaction one way or the other. It was something the league had to deal with and it has."