NFL Players Assn. Convention : Union Making Big Gains in Public Relations

Times Staff Writer

Dr. Beverly Pitts is an Indiana journalism professor who doubles as a publicist for the National Football League Players Assn.

So she wasn't surprised last summer when the union sent her to New York to monitor Commissioner Pete Rozelle's press conference on drugs.

"Our (the NFLPA's) view on drug testing differs greatly from the commissioner's," Pitts said. "We had to have someone there, and I'm glad they asked me.

"It was amazing to see the way Rozelle's public relations staff takes care of him. I've never attended a more carefully orchestrated press conference. Rozelle is able to say just what he wants to say."

Back at NFLPA headquarters in Washington, Pitts drove that message home. And another little milestone had been reached in the evolution of NFLPA PR.

"You can learn from anybody," she said.

In other years, NFL players haven't had the benign kind of public relations that the league has known throughout the Rozelle era.

Various polls have shown that football fans support the owners against the players by up to 4 to 1 each time there is a confrontation with the possibility of a strike.

But times may be changing. The public relations presence that always characterizes an NFL meeting was also a feature of this week's NFLPA convention at the Century Plaza.

The players were served by a staff of three public relations experts--two of whom are women, Pitts and Dee Rauch of the Washington office.

The only male is Frank Woschitz, the group's director of public relations, who, like Pitts, is a veteran of many years as a journalism professor. Woschitz holds a master's degree from Indiana University.

Pitts earned her M.A. and Ph.D degrees from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where she is director of graduate studies in journalism.

She is, that is, most of the year. In the summer months, and often at other times, she has worked for the football players for the last four years.

"I sort of coincided with the videotape revolution," she said. "One of my jobs has been writing the scripts for (NFLPA) videotapes. I also write for their newsletter, their membership manual and other communications services."

This has had a noticeable payoff, in the view of Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director.

"One place where we've made the most progress lately is in communications with the members," Upshaw said.

That's Bev Pitts' department.

A journalism teacher for eight years, she is a New York native whose father was a minister. Her sister is a mathematician, her husband is a General Motors personnel director, her two sons are in college.

Academically, Pitts, 45, was the first to study the mental processes of news writers as they created news-room stories. She is continuing this research at the American Press Institute in Reston, Va.

She said her only complaint against the American press is that it doesn't care enough.

"Most editors don't seem to realize that they're raising the next generation," she said. "Most newspapers are reflectors, not instigators."

The same, she said happily, can't be said of the NFLPA.

Pro Football Notes

The NFLPA is planning to make a distinction between steroids and the so-called recreational drugs in its bargaining position with the owners this spring. "Some doctors prescribe steroids," Gene Upshaw said. "So you can't have an outright ban." . . . A knottier problem arises from the medical history of the athletes who have used steroids over the years. Said Upshaw: "As I understand it, an individual who goes off steroids loses much of the size and muscle power he has built up." . . . In other words, many 275-pound athletes would shrink if deprived of the drug. . . . Nobody knows how many artificially inflated pro football players there are . . . NFLPA members ended their Los Angeles convention Saturday, when Upshaw said the "big majority" remains steadfastly behind his leadership. He said that, next, he will convene the executive committee in April . . . Union President Marvin Powell said he picked up some strike support from the retired NFL players who also convened here this week. "They've assured me that if there's a picket line, they'll be out there walking with us," Powell said.

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