Players and management representatives from each of the National Football League's 28 teams met for three days in late June at the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota for a series of seminars about how to deal with players who have drug or alcohol problems.
The meetings were held June 22-24 and represented the first time both management and players have gathered to discuss the problem of chemical dependence. The Hazelden Foundation, located in Center City, Minn., was designated specifically as the overseer of the NFL's chemical dependence rehabilitation program in last year's collective bargaining agreement.
"I think this situation is unique in that there is no reason for players and management to be on opposite sides of the fence. This is one area where we all pull the same oars," said Vince Lombardi, assistant executive director of the NFL Management Council and son of the former coach. Lombardi served as the Management Council's representative at the seminars.
"(The seminars) were Hazelden's idea of the next step in their program. I think everyone understands that this will take a long time before this is running smoothly, but I do believe that these seminars represented a significant step," Lombardi said.
Brig Owens, assistant to the executive director of the NFL PLayers Association, said, "It was the kind of meeting we all felt was needed in terms of education. It showed how the whole process works."
By design, the Hazelden Foundation is supposed to become a sort of umbrella organization, coordinating the efforts of local drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers treating NFL players around the country.
"Hazelden is an excellent facility, has an excellent staff and the whole thing was very informative," said Jim Schaaf, vice president and general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, who attended the seminars.
Mark May, Washington Redskins offensive guard, represented his teammates at the meetings while trainer Bubba Tyer represented team management.
"There were seminars all day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.," May said. "There was a lot of role acting, learning about the facilities and learning how to deal with players who have problems. We met in large groups and sometimes we were broken down into groups of 10-12 people.
"A lot of teams sent assistant coaches or trainers. Head coaches were invited, but (Baltimore's) Frank Kush was the only one there . . . I assume when Coach (Joe) Gibbs gets back in town from his vacation, either Bubba or myself will take all of this to him and then to the players. I thought it was very educational, but it was so much crammed into such little time. I wish they had spread out into a week what they did in three days."
Jim Miller, spokesman for the NFL Management Council, said that members of the Hazelden Foundation had made a presentation at the meetings of the league's head coaches in Palm Springs, Calif., in March. Another presentation was made at the NFL Players Association meetings in Florida in May.
Last year's collective bargaining agreement specifically stated that the Hazelden Foundation will "evaluate existing facilities to assure the highest degree of care and treatment (of players with chemical dependence problems)." It further stated that "Hazelden will be responsible for conducting an ongoing educational program for all players and club personnel regarding the detection, treatment and after-care of chemically dependent persons."
Lombardi said, "We desperately hope and desperately want this to work."