National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle yesterday indicated he did not support a drug program proposed by the NFL Players Association, saying it would not solve the league's drug problems.
The union proposal, detailed at a news conference yesterday at the AFL-CIO Building by NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw, provides for a schedule of punishments for users of illegal drugs, culminating in the suspension for at least one season of third-time offenders. But it does not call for random testing of all players, which a source confirmed was of concern to Rozelle.
Rozelle this month said he would impose his own drug plan unilaterally -- which includes random testing of every player -- if the union and owners' Management Council could not agree on a drug program for next season.
"I do not feel that the proposals which were announced today will solve the problem," Rozelle said in a statement issued by his New York office. "I hope that the players association and the Management Council will negotiate further in order to develop a more effective solution. I intend to have continuing conversations with both sides. I also plan to continue consultation with experts in the field and explore ways to hopefully resolve some of the players' concerns regarding confidentiality."
Upshaw called confidentiality a "cornerstone for any successful drug program" and said the NFLPA proposal includes a fine of $50,000 to be levied in any instance of breach of confidence.
"The NFL players have recognized the fact that they have a responsibility to football and to society," said Upshaw. " . . . But our program is not designed to let the public know. It's just between a player and his doctor."
The program, which calls for random urinalyses for players who test positive for illegal drugs in mandatory preseason physicals, rehabilitation programs and severe penalities for repeat offenders, was unanimously approved by the NFLPA Executive Committee on Saturday. It will be presented to the NFL teams' 28 player representatives April 22 and, pending their acceptance, will be offered to the Management Council.
Upshaw said the union will proceed with its plans for the program despite Rozelle's objections, saying this was a collective-bargaining issue between the union and Management Council and does not necessarily include the commissioner.
"We're giving him random testing, but they the players tested have to meet the criteria," Upshaw said. "It the union plan makes too much sense, that's what's wrong with it."
The union program stipulates that players who test positive for illegal drugs during preseason physicals or in tests prompted by "reasonable cause" must be treated by one of the 28 independent medical facilities designated by the NFLPA, and must submit to random testing by that facility.
The NFLPA reiterated its "reasonable cause" criteria as failing a preseason urinalysis, substantial medical or physical evidence of illegal drug use, legal evidence of drug use, sale or trafficking, or a signed affidavit by another player of drug use.
After treatment, any player who fails another random urinalysis will donate one week's pay (an NFL average of $15,000) to a drug abuse prevention program. Any further test failures will result in the player's permanent suspension from the NFL, although an appeal for reinstatement may be submitted after one year.
Although Upshaw said the union is "willing to discuss" its plan with management, he said, "We stand firm behind what we've presented."