How the NFL Did an End Run Around a Drug Problem

  • Share
  • Read Later
Every year, Armani-clad National Football League players gather in Hawaii to do savage battle with the league's similarly adorned owners over issues such as salaries, benefits and 'do-rags. And sometimes, as in 1995, according to the New York Times, to not do battle in fact, to look the other way over a number of players who failed drug tests. The reason? The league was looking for, and got, a tougher drug-abuse policy that is considered one of the most comprehensive in professional sports. For their part, a group of players, which one league official numbered at 16 but an owner told the Times was more than two dozen, avoided a potential year-long suspension.

The news came after the Times obtained some 40 hours of videotape of union meetings, filmed by a Florida company for a documentary on the NFL Players Association that was never completed. Besides providing a rare look into the workings of the elite union and such backroom deals as dropping the drug cases the tapes give the first public confirmation of something players and owners have privately been saying for years: That alcohol abuse is a far bigger problem than illegal drugs in the league. Union assistant executive director Doug Allen is seen on tape noting that there were "a dozen alcohol situations" in the previous year. Still, although the league does watch players for signs of alcohol abuse, few players and no real stars have faced sanctions as tough as what the National Basketball Association gave the Dallas Mavericks' center Roy Tarpley, who was repeatedly suspended and eventually kicked out of the NBA over his constant drinking. Will the NFL develop a tougher alcohol policy? That will have to wait for another meeting.