Because the names of six New England Patriots who allegedly have drug problems were revealed in the press, the players' historic and controversial agreement to undergo voluntary drug testing now is "off," according to Mark Murphy, assistant to the executive director of the National Football League Players Association.
After speaking with several Patriots, including player representative Brian Holloway, who is in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl, Murphy said yesterday he "understood from them that, as far as they're concerned, the deal's off."
At a team meeting the morning after their 46-10 loss in Super Bowl XX, the Patriots held a secret vote and accepted the NFL's first voluntary drug-testing program.
At the time, Coach Raymond Berry, who reportedly threatened to quit if his players did not vote for drug testing, said names would be revealed if there were repeat offenders.
But, when confronted by the Boston Globe with the names of six players, General Manager Patrick Sullivan said Tuesday he would not deny the accuracy of the list.
Jim Greenidge, the team's director of publicity, said yesterday the list of Irving Fryar, Tony Collins, Stephen Starring, Roland James, Raymond Clayborn and Kenneth Sims was "accurate, to a point." He would not elaborate.
"I think the players feel betrayed," Murphy said. "Although there were problems with the deal to begin with, I think the players thought it would be confidential. I'm sure they thought it would be done quietly and kept out of the press.
"We understand the deal's off," he continued. "The deal's been breached."
Holloway told the Pittsburgh Press that, "with the release of those players' names, you have seen the end of the voluntary program with the Patriots."
Holloway said confidentiality was one of the conditions for the program, although Berry said he told the players "it's a possibility" their names would become known.
"There's nothing I could do about that," Berry said. "I hoped they wouldn't (become public), but that was out of my hands."
There was no answer at the Patriots' office in Foxboro, Mass., but Greenidge said a statement was to be released today.
Sullivan told the Globe: "Raymond told the team you (the newspaper) have the names and the facts and that in many cases they were the same facts he had.
"The players involved took the risk in the first place, and we never told them they had any guarantees that you would not use their names.
"I absolutely would not deny that your information is accurate as we know it," he said. "The Patriot organization is past the stage of denying things. One of the things Raymond has brought to this organization is a sense of not trying to BS our way through life."
Ron Wooten, the team's assistant player representative, said he regretted the names were published.
"Players are being named after they've already tightened their ship," he said.
Fryar and Clayborn, both at the Pro Bowl, denied to the Globe that they were involved with drugs.
"The guys are taking steps toward getting the team cleaned up," Fryar said. "I was one of the guys who voted for it.
"I'm drug-free, baby. Test me today if you want."
Said Clayborn: "My name shouldn't be involved in this mess. I'll take a urinalysis for anyone."
The other four players have not been reached for comment.
Yesterday, the NFLPA was preparing an unfair labor practice complaint to file with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the Patriots' agreement is not allowed under the players' collective bargaining agreement.
Wooten said he believes the agreement will be overturned because of the grievance.
"(The grievance) will probably be successful," Wooten told United Press International. "I don't think the team's moves will hold up for very long because of the collective bargaining agreement.
"At Monday's meeting, the conflict was spelled out before the vote was taken, that it was a matter of dealing with the agreement. But what happens next? I don't know."
Murphy, who called the team's new agreement "crazy," said the Patriots should have gone through agreed-upon channels for urinalysis, in which the team physician calls for drug testing during the season if there is reasonable cause.
"(The new plan) would be a material change in the working conditions and under labor law it must be collectively bargained," Murphy said.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA, called the Patriots' drug testing plan "illegal and invalid."
Murphy said he doesn't expect a quick answer from the NLRB. "It depends on the sense of urgency, and, now that the season is over, there doesn't seem to be much of that."
Wooten said he and Holloway were concerned about how the Patriots' vote would look to the rest of the league.
According to the Globe, of the 59 players on the roster, seven voted against the plan and several abstained, but 80 percent approved it.
"The team's loyalty to Raymond Berry as a person won out . . . ," said Wooten. "The vote was a move to back him more than anything else . . . The worst possible scenario would be losing Raymond, and that's a nightmare vision. We can't let that happen."
The Globe reported that Berry told the players before they voted that if they did not submit to testing, he would quit.
But yesterday Berry denied that he meant to imply that he would resign.
"There's no way that I want to imply to them that this vote had to do with me leaving or not," Berry told the Associated Press. "No way in the world."