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The dispute over drugs between the NFL and the NFL Players
Association neared a showdown last week. Commissioner Pete Rozelle
escalated the battle by announcing his intention to immediately
implement a $1 million per year program that calls for each player to
submit to two random regular-season urinalysis tests for cocaine,
marijuana, opiate, amphetamine and alcohol use. Under the program, a
first positive test for substances other than amphetamines would
require the player to undergo 30 days of counseling and additional
testing at half pay. A second positive test would lead to a 30-day
unpaid suspension, and a third would get the player banned from the
NFL. Reinstatement of a three-time loser would be at Rozelle's
The NFLPA objected to Rozelle's unilateral action. Rozelle knew
the objection was coming; he had discussed his intentions with union
leader Gene Upshaw six days before his announcement. He told Upshaw
that he was instituting his drug program because negotiations between
the union and the owners hadn't produced one that was satisfactory.
He said the program now in effect, which is part of the 1982
collective bargaining agreement and which calls only for preseason
testing, was ineffective. He said the NFL constitution empowered him
to act against ''conduct detrimental to the welfare of the league or
professional football.'' Upshaw claimed Rozelle was pulling an
end run around the collective bargaining agreement, which has one
more year to go.
Rozelle may have been hoping that, in the aftermath of the
cocaine-related deaths of former Maryland basketball star Len Bias
and Cleveland Brown safety Don Rogers, the NFLPA membership would be
too divided on the drug-testing issue to fully back Upshaw. No such
luck. Although a number of players expressed public support for drug
testing, the union didn't knuckle under, and on Friday the NFLPA and
the commissioner's office agreed to ''expedited arbitration'' on
Rozelle's action. Arbitrator Richard R. Kasher of Philadelphia will
hold hearings this month, and his decision is expected in
mid-September, in time to institute mandatory testing during the
regular 1986 season if he finds for the commissioner.
Rozelle is clearly on the spot. The mere fact that he found
himself in binding arbitration a scant four days after announcing
immediate implementation of his program can be seen as an
embarrassment for him. If he loses, then the embarrassment will be
all the greater. But the NFL expresses confidence that the
commissioner will win in arbitration.