National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle today called drug use in the league "a damn serious potential economic problem" that can "directly affect the income" of the NFL.
Rozelle, who said last week he wants to develop a leaguewide drug testing program for this season, said he believes there is drug use by players on all 28 NFL teams, although some of it might be "minimal."
"In time, it could affect the economy of the sport for the players and everyone in it," he said in a news conference at the league's winter meetings.
"I'm talking about attendance at games and I'm talking about sponsors for our telecasts," Rozelle said, dismissing the notion that he views drug use as a public relations problem.
Rozelle, who has been discussing his plan with Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said the issue of players' privacy should not be a concern when testing for drug use.
"I don't buy the argument," Rozelle said. "When you're paid an inordinate amount of money for six months' work, there has to be some payback besides the great performance you give on the field."
Rozelle said he hopes to reach an agreement with the NFLPA on random drug testing, beginning as soon as the opening of training camps this summer, but if he doesn't, he'll go ahead with his plan anyway.
"If we can't [reach an agreement], I may have to take action unilaterally . . . . It's important enough whether I have legal assurance or otherwise, I would think it's sure worth a shot," Rozelle said.
But Dick Berthelsen, legal counsel for the NFLPA, said this afternoon that Rozelle "does not have the authority to impose random testing."
When told of Rozelle's comment on the leaguewide drug problem, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said he does not believe the Redskins should be included.
"I think we've got a clean team," Gibbs said. "I know the odds tell you that's not very likely, but I feel that way about our guys."
Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka acknowledged today that one player on his team had a drug problem during the Bears' Super Bowl championship season. Chicago General Manager Jerry Vainisi said the player, whom he would not name, was not on the 45-player roster for the Super Bowl.