THE NFL AND STEROIDS
Last week Atlanta Falcon guard Bill Fralic told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the dangers of anabolic steroids that he estimates that "probably about 75 percent" of NFL linemen, linebackers and tight ends use the strength-building drugs. Former NFL guard Steve Courson, who believes that heavy steroid use contributed to a coronary condition that will force him to undergo a heart transplant (SI, April 3), testified that he believes that half the players at line-of-scrimmage positions in the league take steroids. Even NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle admitted that the figures disclosed by his office for positive preseason steroid tests in 1987 and '88—6% to 7%—are probably lower than the actual rate of steroid use among players.
The NFL faces at least two obstacles in combating steroids. One is the NFL Players Association. Rozelle testified that periodic, unscheduled testing of players is "the most effective possible deterrent" to steroid use, and he may be right. But the league cannot conduct such tests because of opposition from the NFLPA. A 1986 arbitrator's ruling in favor of the NFLPA limits the league to a single, announced test during training camp; additional tests are permitted only in cases in which reasonable cause exists. In reality, of course, any steroid user with a brain and a calendar can get himself off the drugs in time to pass a steroid test he knows about months in advance. The NFL's stern new penalties for players testing positive for steroids—a 30-day suspension for the first offense, banishment for the rest of the season for the second—won't do much good if the vast majority of steroid users beat the annual test.
A second hurdle confronting the NFL is the apparent unwillingness of some teams to take steroid use seriously. Pitt defensive end Burt Grossman and college teammate Tom Ricketts, an offensive tackle, reportedly tested positive for steroids at the NFL scouting combine in February, yet both players were drafted in the first round—Grossman by San Diego and Ricketts by Pittsburgh. Their new teams admitted knowing before the draft that the two had tested positive but accepted the players' word that they were not anabolic steroid users. Grossman said he had received injections of cortisone, a nonanabolic steroid, for an ankle injury, and Ricketts said he had been given cortisone to treat an injured foot.
May 21, 1989
Drug-testing experts told SI that cortisone use should not cause a player to test positive for anabolic steroids. If in these cases it did, the NFL should reexamine its testing methods. If, on the other hand, Grossman and Ricketts did use anabolic steroids, medical reasons are not an excuse for doing so. The NFL Physicians Society is on record as stating that there are "no legitimate medical purposes [for which] to prescribe anabolic steroids to NFL players." The league itself has forbidden players from using steroids "in any quantity for any purpose."
The NFL still has to prove that it means business about cracking down on steroid use. As for the NFLPA, it was put on the spot last week for having neglected the issue for too long. In 1985 both NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw and then president Tom Condon told SI that anabolic steroids were not a problem in the NFL. When asked by Judiciary Committee chairman Joseph Biden to defend that assessment, Upshaw replied, "I said that? You're sure?" SI is quite sure that Upshaw said it. Upshaw's contention that NFL players overwhelmingly oppose random steroid testing was also called into question last week. Fralic said that in a survey he conducted among teammates in 1986, 80% of them were willing to submit to random testing.
A TIME TO SHINE
If your hairline is ebbing but your golf swing flowing, we have just the event for you. It's the first Bald Golfers of America Tournament, a two-day, 36-hole best-ball event scheduled for next month in Palm Beach, Fla. "We're combing the nation for players," says the tournanament's balding founder, Lew Wilson, president of Regal Retreats, a Tallahassee, Fla., company that organizes golf outings.
Participants must be at least half bald—borderline cases will be asked to wear rubberized, flesh-tone skullcaps—and-be willing to pay the hair-raising tab of $3,000 per person, which covers three nights' lodging, food and greens fees. Celebrity invitees include such shiny-headed pros as Sam Snead, Miller Barber, Roberto De Vincenzo and, of course, Jerry Pate.
THE FIRST BASEWOMAN
If you were wondering, St. Mary's College first baseman Julie Croteau, the first woman ever to play NCAA baseball (SI, March 27), finished her freshman season with 10 hits in 45 at bats for a .222 average. She made five errors in 92 chances as St. Mary's, a Division III school in St. Mary's City, Md., struggled to a 1-20-1 record. "Julie was tough." says St. Mary's coach Hal Willard. "She went 2 for 3 against Longwood, a Division II team, and several opposing coaches said there was no doubt she was a legitimate Division III player."
GROUNDS FOR DISBARMENT?
This week an Edmonds, Wash., sports memorabilia company will begin test-marketing the Ken Griffey Junior Milk Chocolate Bar. The company apparently doesn't mind that Griffey, the 19-year-old Seattle Mariners outfielder, is allergic to chocolate.
GRADUATING WITH HONORS
The Kentucky basketball program has been under a cloud because of alleged NCAA rules violations, but coach Jerry Claiborne's Wildcat football team has quietly done the school proud. Last week the College Football Association gave its annual academic achievement award to Kentucky for graduating 90% of the players who entered the university in the fall of 1983—the highest percentage of any of the 53 CFA member institutions that disclosed their graduation rates. (Thirteen CFA schools did not submit their graduation figures.) The only other schools to have won the award in its nine years of existence are Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia.
The Maryland Racing Commission last week approved a simple innovation that could have a far-reaching impact on harness racing. Starting May 24, bettors at Freestate Raceway, one of the state's three harness tracks, will make their selections without knowing the horses' post positions. Wagering will stop a minute or two before the race, at which point the starting slots will be drawn.
Proponents say that the change will revive interest in the declining sport by making races less predictable and assuring more lucrative payoffs at the pari-mutuel windows. As any good handicapper can tell you, post position can mean everything in harness racing; horses who draw the inside posts can have a tremendous edge, especially at shorter tracks. "The number 8 post is a seven-length disadvantage right off the bat," says Tom Aronson, executive secretary of racing for the American Horse Council. Because horses in the inside posts are bet on so heavily, their odds drop; even though these horses frequently win, they don't pay off much. The new system will introduce a greater element of uncertainty, and as a result there should be fewer prohibitive favorites.
Some harness-racing bettors decry the new system because it makes wagering more of a crapshoot. But Aronson points out that unpredictability is an asset to the prospering sport of dog racing, in which favored greyhounds are often bumped or even tripped up by other dogs in the race, In fact, Aronson decided to pursue the idea of a late post-position draw in March while watching dog races in Florida.
"Every innovative move in this sport was initially resisted," says Stan Bergstein, executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America. "Objections and skepticism might be an indication that it's going to work."
COAST TO COAST
Bill Duff hoped to do a timed lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Saturday, but it rained. After 80 days and 3,632 miles on the road, he probably deserved a breather. Duff, a 27-year-old Texan who was paralyzed from the waist down in an April 1982 auto accident, has been propelling himself across the country and through the collective conscience of America in a 20-pound racing wheelchair. His goal, along with reaching New York City by June 28, is to raise money for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
Duff is an accomplished wheelchair marathoner and track athlete, but since he left Los Angeles on Jan. 17, his stamina has been tested by a 2,000-foot climb out of the Salt River Canyon in Arizona and 45-mile-per-hour head winds in the Texas panhandle. He has worn out 11 pairs of gloves and 16 tires, covering almost 50 miles a day in weather ranging from 90° heat to—36° windchill. An eight-member Wheels Across America support team has accompanied him along his wildly circuitous route, which was charted to hit as many large cities as possible. "If I'd gone straight across the U.S., I'd be done already," says Duff.
Duffs day at Indy wasn't a total washout. Speedway officials presented him with a check for $5,000, increasing the amount Duff has raised for the Miami Project to nearly $600,000.
Duff may prefer rolling across the countryside, but other disabled athletes are taking to the sea. One group from Boston leaves its wheelchairs onshore and, with some assistance from able-bodied guides, scuba dives. The members of the group call themselves the Moray Wheels.
IT'S ALL KOSHER
New York City sports agent David Fishof believes many Jewish children are deprived of the opportunity to develop into great athletes. "They can't play youth football because the games are on Saturday, the Sabbath," he says. "The same is true for Little League baseball and other sports. Summer camps are out because they run through Saturday and don't provide kosher food."
Fishof, who is an Orthodox Jew, has addressed the problem by organizing what he's billing as "the first ever kosher hockey and basketball camp," scheduled for June 25-29 (Sunday to Thursday) in Lake Como, Pa. All the food will be kosher, and campers will be required to attend morning and evening religious services. Big-name instructors—none of them Jewish—will include Gerald Wilkins and coach Rick Pitino of the New York Knicks, Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers and Pat LaFontaine of the New York Islanders. The camp has already signed up more than 100 kids, and it is still accepting applications.
At the same time, many Jewish youngsters—even the most sports-minded ones—are turning away from baseball and other sports cards to collect a more meaningful alternative: rabbi cards. Arthur Shugarman, a Baltimore accountant, has issued the first set of 36 cards through a nonprofit company he founded called Torah Personalities; the second set is due out this month. Each card has a color photo of a prominent 20th-century rabbi on the front and biographical information about him (birthplace, education, yeshiva or synagogue affiliation) in both English and Hebrew on the back. Says Rabbi Boruch Brull of Baltimore, who is not one of the rabbis featured but whose three sons collect the cards avidly, "These people are true examples for us, while baseball players may or may not be."
THE SAD TALE OF SWEET PEA
An account of Lloyd Daniels's life should be posted by every playground court and in every school gym. Known as Sweet Pea for his resemblance to the Popeye cartoon character, the 6'8" Daniels, now 21, was once hailed as the most talented New York City basketball player to come along since Lew Alcindor. He was said by some to be Magic Johnson with an even better outside shot, and coaches and recruiters praised and pampered him from the time he was in eighth grade.
But Daniels has little self-discipline, and he may be dyslexic. He quit or was kicked out of four high schools, one junior college and one college, Nevada-Las Vegas, which had accepted him even though he read on a third-grade level. Since Daniels pleaded guilty in Las Vegas in 1987 to attempting to buy crack, he has undergone drug rehabilitation three times. He was suspended by the CBA's Topeka Sizzlers last year for failing to abide by his drug-rehab program or get in shape. After that, he was booted off a pro team in New Zealand for alleged heavy drinking. Friends feared for several years that if Daniels didn't change, he might end up dead on the street.
Last week he almost did. At about 2 a.m. on Thursday, Daniels was shot three times—twice in the chest and once in the neck—during a reported drug dispute with two men outside his grandmother's home in Queens. Daniels owed the men $8 for what his agent, Tom Rome, maintained was an old crack purchase. He was listed in critical condition for two days but as of Monday was able to walk.
Daniels's sad saga reflects the failures of both society and Daniels himself. He grew up in a depressed neighborhood, and by the time Daniels was three his mother was dead and his father had abandoned him to the care of relatives. As he grew older, Daniels seldom applied himself. No matter what he did wrong or how infrequently he went to class, however, someone gave him another chance—almost always because he was a basketball star. There are reports that he got more than just extra opportunities: The NCAA is investigating UNLV for alleged recruiting violations involving Daniels. News-day reported that Daniels received a car, cash and other improper emoluments while he was prepping for the Runnin' Rebels in junior college.
"Those bullets may save Lloyd's life," said Rome last week. "He can't go any lower or closer to the death on the streets that was always lurking." Rome said that five NBA teams had shown an interest in his client before the shooting. He believes a pro team will still be willing to sign Daniels if he can straighten himself out—and fully recover from his wounds.
THEY SAID IT
•Whitey Herzog, St. Louis Cardinals manager, when asked if he shared Detroit skipper Sparky Anderson's goal of managing until age 80: "Why would I want to do that? Look at Sparky—he's 55, and he already looks 80."
•Chuck Daly, Detroit Piston coach and noted doomsayer: "A pessimist is an optimist with experience."