The National Football League Players Association withdrew its request for a temporary restraining order to block Commissioner Pete Rozelle's random testing drug plan yesterday after the league agreed to delay implementation of most points in Rozelle's plan until a verdict is reached through expedited arbitration.
U.S. District Court Judge Barrington Parker of the District of Columbia agreed to hold the case in abeyance after the two sides agreed that arbitrator Richard R. Kasher will hear the case July 23-24 in either New York or Washington. Kasher is expected to reach a decision 30 days after he receives briefs filed by both sides. His decision is expected on or before Sept. 14-15, one week after the NFL regular season begins.
In the meantime, players from all 28 teams will be subjected to preseason urinalysis during training camps, which start this month. This includes teams, such as the Washington Redskins, that already took urinalyses in May minicamps. No random tests will be given to players prior to Kasher's decision except those players whom a team physician has "reasonable cause" to believe have a drug problem. That stipulation exists in the current collective bargaining agreement between players and management.
Jack Donlan, executive director of the owners' NFL Management Council, said the league had not planned to begin giving players the unannounced drug tests specified in Rozelle's plan until October, anyway.
It also was agreed that, during the pending arbitration, no player who tests positive for drugs shall be disciplined by Rozelle under the penalties outlined in his new program.
Gene Upshaw, NFLPA executive director, said in a prepared statement, "We have protected the collective bargaining agreement and the bargaining process with this settlement. This demonstrates that the NFLPA was right in opposing unilateral action by Rozelle."
Though Rozelle was unavailable to comment, NFL spokesman Joe Browne said, "The importance of today's decision is that this will be carried through in an orderly and prompt fashion. Meanwhile, preseason testing will go ahead as scheduled."
The union has opposed Rozelle's plan, which would include two unannounced drug tests during the season for all players and would ban third-time offenders from the league for at least one year, on the grounds that a collective bargaining agreement already exists and cannot be altered without negotiated agreement between both sides. Rozelle has said that certain language in the league constitution and by-laws gives him the right to act unilaterally.
The agreement yesterday also alters the role of Dr. Forest Tennant Jr., who was named by Rozelle to oversee the leaguewide drug program. In Rozelle's program, the SmithKline Bio-Science Laboratories, a nationwide network of clinical laboratories, would collect and analyze urine specimens and report results only to Tennant.
The union, seeking greater confidentiality for players, did not want Tennant or the league office to receive results of urinalyses. As part of yesterday's agreement, it was stipulated that SmithKline will report results only to team physicians and will "be bound by the doctor-patient relationship" in terms of confidentiality.
Judge Parker called the agreement "a very statesmanlike approach to a very difficult situation."