In the absence of a union contract, the National Football League’s long-awaited anti-steroid policy was instituted Tuesday by Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who immediately acknowledged a loophole in the plan.
Players will be tested during a pre-announced period--early in training camp. In theory, this could allow them time to use steroids in late winter as part of an off-season weight-lifting program and still pass the July tests.
“What you say is possible,” Rozelle said. “But the arbitrator said we couldn’t do random tests. . . .
“We’re not anxious to catch players. We want them to stop using steroids.”
That decision against random testing was made in a previous drug-policy dispute. Now, however, with no collective bargaining agreement in force, and the players and owners suing each other, Rozelle is free to institute any plan he desires.
But, Rozelle, making the announcement during the annual owners’ meetings at Palm Desert, has decided to continue to honor the arbitrator’s ruling, to avoid creating yet another point of contention.
“We want to make a bargaining agreement,” Rozelle said. “Not make it tougher.”
The league tested for steroids last season--when the drugs were not considered banned substances--and said that 7%-8% of the players had positive results. That would be about 100 players, compared to the 25 who were suspended last season for testing positive for street drugs for a second time.
Players will be tested for steroids this summer, with penalties to be announced the week before the last exhibition game. If a player tests positive, he will be suspended for 30 days--the last exhibition plus three regular-season games.
If a player is taking any drug that can act as a diuretic or masking agent, he must declare it when he is tested and produce a letter from his doctor with a valid reason for its presence. Otherwise, the presence of one of these drugs will also be considered a positive test.
In Olympic competition, where steroids have been on the International Olympic Committee’s banned list since before the 1976 Summer Games at Montreal, athletes have been found to be taking an ever-more sophisticated array of masking drugs.
A player testing positive will be tested weekly thereafter. If he comes up positive again, he will be suspended for the rest of the season.
Rozelle informed union leader Gene Upshaw of the plan, and said that Upshaw acknowledged to him that one had been needed.
“I was very pleased at Upshaw’s reaction,” Rozelle said.
Rozelle said he had no data on users-by-position, but there has been speculation that at those requiring great bulk--the offensive linemen, for instance--the percentage is a good deal higher than 8%. A recent study at Penn State, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., found that 6.4% of a population of high school male seniors, not just football players, might have used steroids.
College players who are expected to go early in the NFL draft are tested for drugs at the annual scouting combine workout in early February. This year, the players were also tested for steroids and some were found to have taken them.
“I can’t tell you the number, but we did get some positives,” Rozelle said.
The college players and all NFL veterans will now receive letters from the league, informing them that it’s a new day.