The National Football League Players Association would welcome the involvement of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in discussions dealing with drug use by players, according to a top union official.
"I think it's a good thing the commissioner is approaching it on a collective basis and dealing with the union," said Mark Murphy, the former Washington Redskins safety who is executive assistant to NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw.
Murphy was responding to comments made by Rozelle in an impromptu news conference late Friday in Honolulu, the site of today's Pro Bowl game. Rozelle said he is meeting with the union and ownership to set up a league-wide program this spring to deal with drug use by players.
"We want to look into strengthening testing and so forth and get a stronger procedure than we have in the collective bargaining agreement," Rozelle said in the wake of the New England Patriots' revelation that several players have drug problems.
Rozelle said he wants to come up with a solution that would reduce drug abuse and also safeguard the privacy of players. "The ball's in my court," he said. "I now feel the only good that came out of the Patriots' situation is that the climate's right for a new deal to be made."
Rozelle said he talked Friday in Hawaii with Upshaw and also met with Jack Donlan, the director of the Management Council, the owners' bargaining group.
"I'm trying to come up with something Upshaw and Donlan will buy," said Rozelle. "The burden is on our office in developing this plan . . . ."
Rozelle said he hopes a plan can be worked out to change the union contract in its final year, then carry over the change into the next contract.
Rozelle said he wanted to work through the players association to avoid clubs making separate agreements to deal with the problem.
"Obviously, we're willing to discuss it," Murphy said yesterday. "But it's not going to be something where we'll say, 'Here, do what you want.' We want input and it should be collectively bargained. In any situation like this, there will be give and take, and I think it's encouraging that Rozelle wants to get involved."
Murphy said the union has discussed alternatives to dealing with the drug problem, but that "there are no easy answers . . . We all realize something has to be done, and one of the key issues as far as we're concerned is confidentiality, guarding the players' privacy.
"You also can't have the people making the employment decisions, the coaches and general managers, actively involved in a program. You have to take it out of the club's hands and have outside professionals making the decisions . . . that Rozelle is willing to get involved is a very good sign."