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HBO's "REAL SPORTS" TAKES ON NFL'S DRUG TESTING POLICY
Published September 11, 1996
The NFL's drug enforcement policy is examined by HBO's Jim Lampley on the latest installment of "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." Entitled "Is the System Working?," Lampley noted, "NFL officials support a drug testing program that can be seen as the most comprehensive in all of professional sports, testing every player, every year, for a variety of substances. And based on that, you might be lured into seeing Michael Irvin and Bam Morris as the apparent rare exceptions in a relatively drug-free NFL. But experts we consulted, players we spoke to, paint a somewhat different picture." Lampley said "while many NFL players are willing to discuss the league's drug policy, few will do it on the record." One player, a former drug user who never tested positive for drugs, spoke on the condition of anonymity and indicated that currently anywhere from 13 to 18 players per team would fail the NFL drug test. The player said he "timed it so [he] wouldn't flunk what they called the idiot test. You flunked, you're an idiot." Lampley explained every NFL player without a drug history knows he will "be tested once and only once" during the year, and he knows testing will come between May 1 and August 20 "as spelled out" in the CBA. Lampley: "Drug users simply schedule themselves clean before the testing period, pass the test and then resume their lifestyle for another year." NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was asked if the league's testing policy was damaged when players like Irvin and Morris "can wind up facing criminal penalties" in circumstances that would seem to indicate drug use, when they passed the NFL's drug test. Tagliabue: "I don't know that you can draw the conclusion in either case that there is an indication of drug use. But that is one of the reasons you would like to have some earlier testing. ... I don't think its damaging to the credibility of the program. I think its damaging [to the players involved] and I think its damaging to the National Football League." ONE SOLUTION: The implementation of a league-wide season- long, random drug test, could have a "real impact," according to a drug policy expert cited in the piece. The NFL has a similar policy toward steroid use. Lampley: "But considering the unenthusiastic attitude the NFL Players union expresses toward year-round, random testing for drugs like cocaine and marijuana, tougher testing anytime soon seems unlikely. And while players we spoke to would readily accept random tests that were administered fairly and consistently, virtually all of them view the current, once-a-year-preseason test, as nothing more than a public relations tool." Lampley said the program's "intent and effectiveness" is also questioned due to "occasional inept administration." He cited the incident where several Cowboy players were tested under league supervision before the May 1 testing period mandated by the CBA, and the reportedly positive test results were thrown out due to the wrong testing date. Tagliabue said those testing administrators were unaware of the time frame for testing, which he said is part of the process "of getting up to speed in a transitional program." But Lampley showed documentation that the testing dates had been released throughout the league "months before the botched" Cowboys test. Lampley also addressed prospects for a change in the NFL's policy. Lampley: "A minority of players, I think, would be in favor of a change in policy. I don't think that the Commissioner would be uncomfortable with the notion of random testing, but I don't think its coming anytime soon" (HBO, 9/10).