The New England Patriots have been aware of a drug problem on the team since before Raymond Berry became their coach in the fall of 1984 and have had some players treated for chemical dependency this past season, General Manager Patrick Sullivan said yesterday.
The team's drug problem was made public Monday when the Boston Globe reported the Patriots' players had voted to accept the NFL's first voluntary drug-testing program. Yesterday Gene Upshaw, president of the NFL Players Association, said the union will file an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board because of the testing. He said the Patriots had "ignored the procedures in the collective bargaining agreement" and players remained "opposed to random testing."
The Boston Globe reported Monday that 12 players, including four starters from the American Football Conference championship team, were involved with drugs, specifically cocaine.
At a news conference yesterday in Foxboro, Mass., Berry outlined the testing program, which he said will involve suspension without pay for up to one year for repeat offenders.
"The basic guidelines are these," Berry said. "If we get information that a player has got a drug problem that's factual, he's confronted with it and he is given two alternatives. He can take the help from the program that we have got, which has proved immensely successful, or he can take suspension.
"It's very simple to figure out which one he's going to take. So far, that's the way it has worked with players this season . If he has taken help, it has been tremendously successful. We work with him over a period of time and at some point they are going to be declared clean and they will be clean. If in the future a player like this goes back and we get information that he is on drugs, then he is going to be suspended for up to one year with loss of salary and I'm going to tell the press about it."
In the existing collective bargaining agreement, a player is guaranteed confidentiality if he seeks the help of the club for treatment of a dependency problem. The agreement allows for one urinalysis during a preseason physical and another during the season if the team physician believes there is reasonable cause.
Explaining why he would reveal the name of a repeat offender, Berry said, "I have to because they (reporters) are going to ask me and I'm going to tell them. There are only three alternatives when the press comes to me and asks why I am suspending a player and taking him out of the lineup. I can either lie, say no comment, or tell the truth, and I'm going to tell the truth about it. I've told the players that and they understand that."
Sullivan would not confirm the number of Patriots involved but said, "The figures (reported) are speculative and it's speculative to give out figures on our part, too." Berry noted that "whatever group of people you're talking about, this is part of the scene today. Professional football is just like every other part of our society.
"Our football team's ability to deal with the problem in the past year . . . has been a tribute to them," Berry said.
Sullivan said there "has been some testing (of players) this season . . . the results were very positive, spectacular."
Sullivan would not say how many players were treated, "a couple -- I'd rather not get into specific numbers."
A highly placed source in the Patriots organization said, "Help (already) has been rendered to the players who have the problem . . . . The Massachusetts General (Hospital) investigative staff has been poised to help. Several players have already gone for treatment. All the players with a drug problem were allowed to keep playing.
"We had asked that they seek treatment. They have responded by taking treatment, not at the hospital, but administered by the Massachusetts General staff."
Yesterday's news conference in Foxboro was also attended by Ron Wooten, the team's assistant player representative who said the union's opposition to voluntary testing was "what you'd expect -- not terribly positive.
"We realized we had to face the problem," Wooten said. "Given the unique relationship we have with Raymond and with Pat, we decided to make a personal issue in Foxboro with the Patriots and with these two gentlemen . . . . We don't have the nuts and bolts (of the testing) worked out but we've agreed to some kind of drug-testing program and to police ourselves."
The Globe reported the team voted for the testing after being addressed by Berry on Monday, the day after the Patriots lost, 46-10, to the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. It was decided that a two-thirds majority would be enough to approve the program, the Globe said, and of the 59 players on the roster, seven voted against it and several abstained.
Upshaw, in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl this Sunday, said he met yesterday with Patriots player representative Brian Holloway, one of the seven voting against the testing.
"He said they were trying to protect the 12 guys who have a problem, and he's right, but we also have to protect every other player," Upshaw said. "He thinks they had to agree to something or the 12 would be named."
Upshaw also said team management "caught them (players) after an embarrassing loss. Those guys weren't thinking clearly."
Upshaw said he would meet with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle this week, and then discuss the situation with player reps and the union's executive council.
The Globe's story said Berry confronted a number of players after a party in which drugs were used following the Patriots' 30-27 loss to the Dolphins Dec. 16 in Miami. The newspaper said it questioned Berry about rumors concerning drug use then and at first he refused comment. He thenagreed to give the whole background off the record provided the Globe did not publish the story until the season had ended.