Gene Upshaw, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, said if Commissioner Pete Rozelle institutes a new drug program that includes random testing it could cause a strike by players next season.
A recent NFLPA survey indicated that 72 percent of league players oppose random testing and Upshaw, in an interview Monday, said: "If it came down to it, I think the percentage of players who would strike would run along those same lines -- about 72 percent. The players are strong on this issue.
"[Rozelle's] idea is 'my way or no way,' Soviet-style," Upshaw said. "I'm saying that if he does that, then we're on a collision course . . . I'm not suggesting [a players strike]. But what I am saying is that if Rozelle tries to implement his own program without negotiating with us, we'll take all of the necessary steps to stop him, including withholding our services."
Rozelle has said that if the union and the owners' Management Council are unable to reach agreement on a new drug program, he will implement his own program and it will include random testing. Rozelle said he would like the new program in place before the opening of this summer's training camps.
If Rozelle does implement a plan with random testing, Upshaw said that the union first would file a charge with the National Labor Relations Board and would request an injunction. It is uncertain how long it would take the NLRB to reach a decision.
Rozelle, who said he is talking with experts in the drug field but would not divulge any specifics of his plan, said in an interview last week he does not believe this issue will lead to a strike.
"I've seen people far apart before, then they have compromised," he said. "I wouldn't say we're at an impasse as long as people will talk about it. Positions can change. . . . I think rather than either side issuing declarations of policies, the longer they talk the better. I know Upshaw has a lot of pressures on him. I also know he's concerned about the problem."
The union has not taken any formal or informal strike vote, and a sampling of league players indicates divergent views. Neal Olkewicz, Washington Redskins player representative, said he feels the majority of Redskins would be willing to strike if Rozelle tried to implement random testing without negotiating with the union. "It does seem kind of strange that players would be willing to give up their paycheck if they are clean [of drugs]. But [management] is trying, as usual, to force everything down our throats. I think everybody would be willing to strike if it came down to it," Olkewicz said.
However, teammate Mark May said: "I don't think players would strike over this. When people start taking money out of your paycheck -- once they start taking the fines [for failure to accept urinalysis] -- the guys who are saying they won't take the tests now, will. I know I will not strike over an issue like that."
Brian Holloway, player representative of the New England Patriots, said: "I can only see [a strike] coming in the absolute-worst scenario of poor mismanagement of this issue. In my opinion, you'll never see that. There is too much at stake, and it's something where there is room to come up with an effective agreement. I just can't see Pete Rozelle saying a blanket statement: 'We are going to have complete random testing.' I think that would be a mistake."
In the current collective bargaining agreement between players and owners, which will expire after next season, players undergo urinalysis as part of their mandatory preseason physical and may be tested again during the season only if the team physician thinks there is a "reasonable cause" to believe a problem exists.
The NFLPA opposes random testing on the grounds it is an invasion of privacy and, as Upshaw said, "it makes it seem like players are guilty until proven innocent."
The union recently devised a plan, which will be submitted for consideration to the 28 player representatives in an April 22 meeting in Hawaii, which would allow random testing, but only for players who test positive for drugs in the preseason physical.
The union plan aims for enhanced confidentiality and also proposes a series of penalties, including banishment from the league for third-time offenders, who would be permitted to appeal for reinstatement after one year.
Currently, there is no schedule of penalties for drug offenders, although players who become involved with illegal drugs are subject to fines, suspension and probation at the discretion of Rozelle.
Rozelle said: "Within the [NFL] constitution, there is language which I think will give me authority to implement a new drug program . I'm not saying it won't be challenged by the players if they so choose."
Upshaw contended that Rozelle has no ground to implement a program, based on Article XXXI, Section 7 of the collective bargaining agreement, which stipulates that "there will not be any spot checking for chemical abuse or dependency by the club or club physician."
Said Upshaw: "The players understand that this is not just an issue over drugs. It's an issue over everything in the collective bargaining agreement. Players have to protect what they have. . . . [Rozelle] has got to be sure he can get it done with the players because if he can't he'll look like a big fool. He won't have a game. What are ABC and CBS going to say?"