Last week Miami Dolphin wide receiver Mark Duper was suspended for 30 days by the NFL for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. The NFL released no details, but Duper, who filed an appeal, reportedly was suspended because he failed to show up for two league-ordered urine tests. Duper's agent, Dan Bakst of West Palm Beach, Fla., said Duper has submitted to, and passed, league-administered drug tests on a regular basis since a positive preseason drug test, the results of which Duper disputes.
Dolphin coach Don Shula said the news of the suspension hit him "like a hammer." But several sources have told SI that Duper was buying and using cocaine as far back as 1986, and that Shula, Miami owner Joe Robbie and NFL and team investigators knew he was consorting with cocaine dealers at that time. The league and team officials apparently did little to stop Duper's association with the dealers.
One Miami dealer linked to Duper was Nelson Aguilar, who's serving 13½ years in federal prison in Oxford. Wis., for cocaine trafficking. Aguilar described Duper to SI as a "very good friend" and said he has made collect calls to Duper from prison, but declined to discuss the relationship further.
December 12, 1988
Kim Knight, the estranged wife of Aguilar's former partner in drug trafficking, Charles Swigon, told SI that in 1986 she snorted cocaine with Duper in a limousine in Miami. Charles Swigon, who is in prison in Montgomery, Ala., for drug dealing, also told SI he had seen Duper using cocaine that same year. Robert Tipton, a former driver for Aguilar now in federal prison in Marion, Ill., for drug trafficking, and another source told SI's Armen Keteyian that twice in January 1986 Tipton transported briefcases each containing a kilo of cocaine to Duper's North Miami condo. Both sources said that on each occasion Aguilar carried the briefcase into Duper's condo and emerged later without the cocaine but with $18,000 in cash. Tipton quoted Aguilar as having boasted that "the coke is going to be for Mark Duper."
In a February 1986 search of a car driven by convicted drug dealer Timothy Taylor, Metro-Dade police found rolls of film that showed Aguilar and Taylor socializing with Duper and other Dolphin players. William Knierim, then the NFL's regional security representative in Miami, told SI's Martin F. Dardis that he was given copies of the pictures by a police officer, showed them to Dolphin security consultant Stuart Weinstein and then mailed them to NFL assistant security director Charles Jackson at league headquarters in New York. The NFL has a policy barring players from associating with suspected drug dealers, but Knierim, now an investigator for Mobil, says Jackson told him he felt the photos were "of no evidentiary value" and planned to take no action against Duper. Jackson could not be reached for comment.
Weinstein says he told Duper about the photos and advised him to stay away from Aguilar and Taylor. He says he also told Shula and Robbie of the pictures, but did not pursue the matter further.
On Sunday The Miami Herald reported that John Rafael Gomez, who's facing drug charges in two Florida counties, has regularly attended Dolphin practices since 1985 and claims to be a friend of Duper's. The paper said that Gomez told West Palm Beach police that Duper gave him tickets to Dolphin games. Gomez has professed his innocence of the drug charges.
Contacted by ST on Monday, Shula said that Duper's association with Aguilar "was checked out to the best of our ability." He said that Dolphin and league officials "constantly warn" players about associating with undesirable people such as drug dealers, and that he had spoken to Duper "on occasion" about Duper's questionable associations. The NFL had no comment, and Duper could not be reached.
THE PIT DOCTOR
Broadcaster Jerry Punch does interviews in the pit area for both ESPN and ABC during their motor sports telecasts. This year he also helped save the lives of at least two drivers.
Punch—make that Dr. Punch; he's a trauma specialist—spends most of his week as the director of emergency services at Coastal Communities Hospital in Bunnell, Fla. He has done auto racing announcing on the side since 1979, and in that time has become sort of a Marcus Welby figure. Drivers and pit-crew men constantly ask him for medical advice. When driver Buddy Baker approached Punch before a race in August, complaining of excruciating headaches, Punch advised him to see a neurosurgeon right away. Within 36 hours Baker underwent surgery for a subdural hemorrhage that might soon have been fatal if left untreated.
Punch is quick on his feet. At a race last year he helped driver Benny Parsons regain his senses in an infield care center after a crash, then stepped outside. When Parsons emerged, Punch approached him, mike in hand, and said, "Benny, you've just been examined by the doctors. What did they tell you?" Parsons broke up.
Often the situation is far more serious. During a warm-up lap at a track in Bristol, Tenn., in August, driver Rusty Wallace's car hit a wall and rolled over five times. Punch was the first doctor at the scene, and when he arrived, Wallace was unconscious and appeared not to be breathing. To aid Wallace's respiration, Punch stabilized his cervical spine and gave him oxygen as workers cut the roof off the car and removed him. Wallace, who was back on the track the next day, credited Punch with saving his life.
Three weeks ago in an ARCA race in Hampton, Ga., Don Marmor crashed head-on into a concrete barrier at 150 mph, and his body was virtually crushed by the impact. Punch, who was working the race for ESPN, rushed over to help the paramedics. He helped place breathing tubes in Marmor's airway and stabilized him for transport. Marmor was hospitalized in critical condition, and by last week he had improved enough to be taken off a life-support system. "Hearing news like that just makes me feel great," says Dr. Pit Stop.
WILL THE BUYOUT MEAN BYE-BYE?
The sporting world generally ignores the takeover games played out on Wall Street, but it had best not ignore the blockbuster deal consummated last week: The New York investment firm of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) won a wild bidding war for control of RJR Nabisco, the Atlanta-based food and tobacco giant that spends $58 million a year on golf, tennis and auto racing sponsorships. The leveraged buyout cost KKR a record-shattering $25 billion and put the new owners of RJR under a tremendous burden of debt; they will have to cut costs and sell parts of the company to raise cash, and RJR may be forced to slash its hefty sports promotion budget.
Golf has the most to lose. RJR spent more than $25 million on the men's, women's and senior pro tours in 1988. This huge investment reflects the interest of RJR's chief executive officer, Ross Johnson, an avid golfer who loves mingling with the pros. What will happen after Johnson, who was a losing bidder in the buyout battle, departs? "I figure the new owners will cut back, no matter what," says Randy Cobb, chairman of the PGA's Greater Greensboro Open.
Cutting back right away won't be easy. PGA commissioner Deane Beman shrewdly signed RJR to a series of long-term contracts that run at least through the mid-1990s. RJR could try to get out of such commitments: After KKR engineered the leveraged buyout of Beatrice, the food conglomerate, in 1986, Beatrice canceled its $2 million Chicago marathon sponsorship and bought its way out of an auto racing sponsorship deal.
RJR has long planned to cut back its relationship with men's tennis, but the company's cigarette division, which spent $15 million last year to sponsor NASCAR's Winston Cup series, is likely to continue that support. Because cigarette ads are banned from television, cigarette makers feel they need to sponsor sports for the marketing exposure.
The ultimate impact on sports of the takeover of RJR Nabisco will hinge on three factors: 1) which parts of the company are sold off and to whom; 2) whether RJR's new CEO values sports as a marketing vehicle; and 3) whether RJR is so strapped that it has no choice but to reduce its sports involvement. The lesson for sports organizations is that they should diversify their sponsorships to avoid the pitfalls created by buyouts, mergers, restructurings and anything else that might change a corporation's marketing strategy.
THEY SAID IT
•Jack Haley, Chicago Bulls rookie center, on his NBA debut, in which he played one minute and didn't score: "I'll always remember it as the night Michael Jordan and I combined for 52 points."