On the afternoon of Oct. 19 last year, a world-class athlete, Augustinius (Stijn) Jaspers, 23, was found dead in the upper bunk bed of his dormitory-style room at Clemson University. The death was baffling, for Jaspers' many friends knew him as a high-spirited competitor in excellent condition. He had run for his native Holland in the 5,000 meters at the Los Angeles Olympics and was considered by his coach at Clemson to be one of the best young distance runners in the world.
University police combed the room after Jaspers' death searching for clues. The single most significant—and puzzling—discovery was a small plastic bottle that contained three orange-and-white capsules. Tests indicated that the capsules contained phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug used by many top-level athletes. Widely known simply as bute, the drug is legally obtainable only with a prescription. But the bottle in Jaspers' room had no label, and he had no physician's prescription for it.
Dr. James Pruitt of Seneca, S.C. said in his autopsy report that death had been the result of congenital heart disease. Jaspers' father said that the family had no history of heart ailments and that his son had no record of them either. Pruitt's report indicated, however, that Jaspers' heart was 31% larger than acceptable for a man of his size, and that a coronary artery on his left side was undersized.
As for the bute, Pruitt wrote, "The finding of traces of phenylbutazone in the patient's blood is not believed to be a factor in his death."
Case closed? Not quite. This tragic opening scene gave authorities a lead that has since led to the discovery of a drug-traffic system that may have illegally distributed as many as 100,000 units of bute and various kinds of steroids, synthetic hormonal derivatives that athletes use in hope of building bulk and strength. Steroids, too, are supposed to be available only by prescription.
A South Carolina grand jury may meet as early as next month to hear evidence of charges of illegal drug distribution against two former Clemson coaches, both of whom have resigned in the aftermath of Jaspers' death. They are Stan Narewski, 35, former men's track and cross-country coach, and Sam Colson, 33, former women's track and cross-country coach. If the grand jury brings indictments against them for illegally distributing prescription drugs, and if they are found, or plead, guilty, they could face up to 18 months in prison on each charge.
Narewski saved the campus police some legwork when he told them in an interview that he had given Jaspers the bute, which, he said, he had obtained from Colson. In a separate interview, Colson told the Clemson police that he had originally obtained the drug from Tennessee to treat a personal back ailment. Beyond that, Narewski and Colson had steadfastly refused to discuss their alleged involvement in the prescription pipeline—until last week. Then Colson's lawyer, John T. Gentry of Pickens, S.C., broke the silence. In an interview with SI, he admitted that Colson had distributed bute to Clemson athletes. Colson's motive, said Gentry, was "to help the kids, not harm them." Gentry said he fully expects the grand jury to indict Colson. When that happens, he says, his client is prepared to plead guilty. Gentry concluded, "There are no defenses to rely on for trial purposes because it's clean and open that Sam has dispensed [prescription] medication."
Colson, who also served as Clemson's strength and conditioning coach, already has made a confession to South Carolina's State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agents that he obtained steroids and phenylbutazone for Clemson athletes, according to informed SI sources. Colson's source for these drugs, he told the agents, was E.J. (Doc) Kreis, the Vanderbilt strength coach, and M. Woody Wilson, a pharmacist in Franklin, Tenn.
Wilson admitted last week that he sold steroids to Colson and to as many as 30 Vanderbilt football players in each of the last three seasons, delivering them at times to the campus and accepting payment in cash or by credit or check. Wilson said he sold the drugs to help athletes, not for profit. "All you've got to do is look at my bank account," Wilson said. If found guilty of illegally distributing prescription drugs, Wilson and Kreis could be jailed for a term not to exceed 11 months and 29 days per count. "On the massive scale we believe it is in this case," said Arzo Carson, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), "it [the sentences] could ultimately be whatever the judge should decide."
Kreis's attorney, Roger May of Nashville, said his client was innocent: "All the speculation and analysis doesn't show anything. You can't base anything on assumption, assumptions that haven't been proven."
This unusual—some say, long overdue—investigation comes amid growing national and international concern over the use by athletes of unprescribed drugs. An agent for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told SI's Terry Todd last week that there's a federal probe into a steroid pipeline in Ohio and Michigan. In the Hartford, Conn, area last summer six people, including three pharmacists and a physician, were arrested on charges of illegally distributing or obtaining steroids.
At the NCAA convention in Nashville this week, member schools were to decide whether athletes will be tested for drug use. At present there are no NCAA rules concerning testing for steroids or other substances. Last week in Nashville, Carson told SI's Armen Keteyian that he is "working closely" with the Drug Enforcement Administration and that his investigation has broadened to include the possible illegal sale of steroids to college athletes "up East."
In the past Olympic year, there has been much discussion of steroids, which can cause serious medical ailments, including liver and prostate malfunction, testicular atrophy and lowered sperm count. In spite of repeated warnings about possible adverse medical effects, athletes, both amateurs and pros who believe steroids enhance their performance, continue to seek an edge by using them.
Take the Vanderbilt situation. Jim Dralle, a 6'3", 275-pound senior center from Torrance, Calif., said he thought Wilson began selling the steroids to Vanderbilt athletes in 1981. Wilson had been working out in the Vanderbilt weight room after undergoing collarbone surgery. During his rehabilitation, he met Kreis, a former Clemson football player, who later would put Wilson in contact with Colson, according to sources close to the TBI investigation.
Dralle said he didn't use steroids. He also said that Kreis readily accepted whatever decision an athlete made about using them. "He's always been an advocate of hard work, not steroids," said Dralle, "but Doc's not the type who tries to take control of your personal life. He's not a baby-sitter. Anyone who uses them, it's by personal choice."
And that key choice, said Dralle, while known to most teammates, was kept quiet. "We don't talk about it much," he said. "It's very hush-hush, but we know.... The people who used them were striving to be the best."
Vanderbilt's football coach, George MacIntyre, and its athletic director, Roy Kramer, denied that the school had any knowledge of the steroid sales.
In South Carolina, Clemson president Bill L. Atchley had heard enough concerning the events surrounding Jaspers' death. On Dec. 7 he accepted the recommendation of Bill Traxler, South Carolina's 13th-Circuit Solicitor (i.e., prosecutor) that Traxler bring in state agents. Last month, Clemson's men's and women's track teams were interviewed by SLED agents and by the campus police. The athletes were questioned about any knowledge they had about drugs being dispensed without a prescription.
Several Clemson athletes confirmed to SI's Ivan Maisel that they had received bute from Colson. Tina Krebs, an 800-meter runner, explained how she had been given the drug while training for the 1983 NCAAs: "I came down to the weight room. I told Sam [about a twisted ankle], and he said, 'I have some pills to give you that you won't feel pain.' I wanted to go to the nationals. I wouldn't be able to go if he didn't give me the pills. He gave them to me in a white envelope. Sam told us if we felt weird in our stomach to stop taking them." She finished second in the NCAAs.
As an All-America javelin thrower at the University of Kansas, Col-son had frequently used bute to relieve inflammation of his joints, according to Gentry. "They worked beautifully for him." Gentry said of the medication. "He received relief and he swears by them for that purpose."
According to Wilson, Colson, the best man at Kreis's wedding last summer, received his supplies of bute and steroids from Kreis, a popular member of Vanderbilt's athletic program, and from Wilson. Wilson also told SI that he mailed Colson a package of about 50 bottles of steroids worth $ 1,100 as recently as September. So why is Wilson admitting this? "I just want the truth to come out," he said, fighting back tears. "I want everybody to know the truth ...the intentions I had. They wanted to become great athletes. I was convinced if they were taken care of and protected—and if they didn't abuse themselves—they could be."
At week's end the investigations in Tennessee and South Carolina were far from being concluded. If anything, state agents were digging in deeper to locate suspected "middlemen" and "money men" in this network.
Traxler: "The investigation is still an open issue. Everything is open, even the circumstances of Stijn Jaspers' death."
Carson: "Right now, we're devoting our attention to South Carolina and Tennessee, then we'll look to see what's next. We can't do it all in a day."