In the latest fallout over the NFL’s controversial drug-testing program, a confidential letter from then-commissioner Pete Rozelle addresses problems in the handling of at least one case.
The letter to tight end Clarence Kay of the Denver Broncos was one of the details reported Wednesday night by Washington, D.C., television reporter Roberta Baskin, who created a stir with her report, during the week of this year’s Super Bowl, about NFL testing problems.
According to Baskin, reporting on station WJLA, the NFL also made a deal with Kay this summer to stop him from discussing the drug-test results. The deal: Kay, who has tested positive for drugs and alcohol, would not be banned for life if he did not talk.
The NFL issued a one-sentence denial Wednesday: “No decision has been made on Clarence Kay’s status and no deal has been made with Clarence Kay or his attorney.”
Greg Aiello, director of communications, said NFL officials would not elaborate.
Kay’s agent, Bruce Brown, also denied that a deal was made. Brown said Kay was going to grant an interview with Baskin, but decided against it about an hour beforehand. Brown gave no reason for the reversal. Baskin had flown to Denver to meet Kay, a six-year pro.
Kay could not be reached for comment, but Brown said his client is not concerned with the report.
Kay tested positive for cocaine in 1986 and 1988 in the NFL drug program, and was arrested last June for driving under the influence of alcohol. Under NFL policy, that constitutes three violations, and a lifetime ban.
Rozelle’s letter of Aug. 25, 1988, warned Kay that he was considered to be in Step 2 of the league’s three-step program. Rozelle, however, also wrote, in a letter obtained by Baskin, that the handling of Kay’s second positive test was cause for concern.
The Rozelle letter said, in part: “Only my dissatisfaction with the administrative handling of certain matters relating to your recent positive testing has led me to refrain from removing you, based on that testing, for a minimum of 30 days from the Broncos’ roster--a consequence normally called for in Step 2 under league policy at this time of year.”
Rozelle, writing on NFL official letterhead, also warned Kay that it was his last chance to remain eligible. Rozelle wrote that another positive--even for an alcohol offense--would warrant a ban.
Although the third offense came three months ago, new Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has made no decision on Kay’s status.
Tagliabue apparently has a problem. Does he consider the July, 1988, test a positive even though Rozelle questions its validity in his letter? Would that test withstand legal scrutiny if Kay challenged it?
The questionable handling of Kay’s cocaine positive test in July, 1988, is one of the many claims of incompetence against Dr. Forest Tennant of West Covina, one-time NFL drug adviser.
Tennant resigned, effective last April 1, citing his non-NFL commitments as the reason for leaving. However, Tennant and the NFL came under close scrutiny after reports of problems surfaced in the summer of 1989.
Although Tagliabue has established a new program with toxicologists, questions remain as to whether past testing should be counted against players.
Other samples screened at Tennant’s laboratory were found to be handled beyond the bounds of normal drug-testing procedures. Some believe the NFL’s program should start fresh this season.
Kay’s circumstance is one reason why.
According to records obtained from Tennant’s office, Kay’s July, 1988 specimen was held for 12 days before being screened at his West Covina laboratory. That time lapse could affect the result’s accuracy.
“I’m not in a position to make a determination of the ramifications of what any test should be,” said Brown, Kay’s agent. "(But) if this information proves to be accurate, it would concern me.”
Kay’s status has not been determined, Brown said. Kay remains on the Broncos’ roster.