After SI detailed an assortment of irregularities in the NFL's drug-testing program last summer (July 10), the NFL did nothing substantial in response. The league did not refute the facts of the story. Nor did it investigate NFL drug adviser Dr. Forest Tennant Jr. According to court and league documents, former employees and other sources cited by SI, Tennant had breached confidentiality, failed to follow proper procedures and otherwise violated accepted standards both in overseeing the NFL's testing program and in operating a string of methadone clinics in California. "We don't have the resources for a systematic investigation," league counsel Jay Moyer told SI in December when asked if the NFL was doing anything about Tennant.
Last week many of the same allegations surfaced again in a television report by Roberta Baskin of station WJLA in Washington, D.C. The NFL's response was a comedy of contradictions and nondenying denials. The league's director of communications, Joe Browne, in trying to squelch what quickly grew into the biggest story of an otherwise dull week, said that Baskin's report contained the same "misleading information...half-truths and rumors" as SI's story and that the allegations in SI's piece had been "refuted." Browne apparently hadn't spoken to Moyer.
New NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue reacted as if the news was anything but old. When asked about allegations in the WJLA report that players' urine samples had been mishandled and mislabeled, he said the league would look into it. The NFL could have looked into it six months ago, when SI first reported the charges.
February 5, 1990
SI found the NFL to be erratic in enforcing its drug policy; the league had in certain cases ignored positive tests for cocaine and in other cases taken action against players whose urine contained traces of marijuana byproducts too minute to be conclusive. Baskin suggested that this selective enforcement may have been based on race. She reported that in the last 10 years three star quarterbacks, all white, had tested positive for cocaine but received no mandatory counseling or treatment. She also aired a charge by former Tennant employee Gordon Griffith that the NFL had a hit list of black players whom the league wanted to catch through testing.
Tagliabue called these allegations "a smear." Indeed, Baskin shouldn't have been so specific in identifying the three players; there haven't been that many white star quarterbacks in the NFL over the last decade, and she put them all under suspicion. SI found that both black and white players had tested positive for drugs and yet received no counseling or treatment. That suggests that the NFL drug program isn't racist, just incompetent.
Tagliabue said that he will review Tennant's work and seek minority doctors for the drug program in an effort to increase trust in it among black players. How swiftly things change. When Baskin was preparing her report, NFL officials refused to speak with her. She says they told her that they "didn't have time for any negative stories before the Super Bowl."
HE'S NOT A BILLBOARD
Credit Denver coach Dan Reeves for not adding to the game's overcommercialization. When a corporation (which Reeves would not identify) offered him $10,000 to wear a sweater vest with the firm's logo on it while on the sidelines, Reeves said no thanks. He wore a coat and tie instead. Actually, considering how thoroughly the 49ers trounced the Broncos, Reeves may have been doing the company a favor.
DYNASTY VS. DYNASTY
Last Saturday, running back Franco Harris and linebacker Jack Lambert became the sixth and seventh members of the Steeler dynasty of the 1970s to be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They join late owner Art Rooney, quarterback Terry Bradshaw, defensive tackle Joe Greene, linebacker Jack Ham and cornerback Mel Blount in the Hall. Center Mike Webster and coach Chuck Noll will be shoo-ins when they become eligible, so the Steelers of the '70s will eventually have at least nine men in Canton. The only team with more Hall of Famers from a single era in its history is the Packers of the mid-1960s, with 10.
Which brings us to the 49ers. For all their success, they have only three apparent locks for the Hall: quarterback Joe Montana, safety Ronnie Lott and wide receiver Jerry Rice. Former coach Bill Walsh is probable. Running back Roger Craig is likely, with a couple of more good seasons. But that may be it. San Francisco has won by adeptly turning over its roster to keep young talent coming and by milking extra years out of the Jim Burts and Matt Millens. The Niners have been a great team more than a team of greats.
Surprisingly, the Super Bowl champs aren't super profitable. San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. said last week that his team "lost a little bit" of money in 1988 and at best will show a small profit for '89.
Why aren't the Niners rolling in dollars? The principal reason seems to be that DeBartolo puts winning ahead of making money. He pays out more in player salaries than any other owner and sees to it that his team always goes first class. Of course, he can well afford this kind of largess: Last year the DeBartolo family was ranked 109th on FORTUNE's list of the world's wealthiest people, with an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion.
CASH OR CHARGE?
The steep room rates in New Orleans caused some grumbling. Many hotels and motels had long ago sold all their rooms for Super Bowl weekend to travel agencies and tour groups, who in turn shamelessly jacked up prices. Bronco players and coaches who needed extra rooms for their families ended up paying $960 per room for four nights (the minimum stay) at Le Pavilion. That's $240 a night for a room that normally goes for $69. The Broncos were not pleased.
Fearing that the NFL might never award New Orleans another Super Bowl, the city council passed an ordinance last week requiring hotels and motels to post maximum room prices and not to exceed them for any event. As for the disgruntled Broncos, their losers' shares of $18,000 should make covering the cost of the extra rooms a bit easier.
MORE TO COME
Browns owner and NFL television committee chairman Art Modell didn't go to New Orleans. Modell, who suffered a heart attack in 1983, was resting up. He's about to start negotiating the league's new TV contract, which he hopes to have hammered out before an owners' meeting in Orlando in March.
"We will be adding some inventory in the next contract," Modell said last Friday from his office in Cleveland. He means that there will be more nationally televised games. The TV lineup could be augmented in several ways: an expansion of ESPN's current Sunday night schedule from eight games to 16; a cable package of midweek games; a fourth over-the-air network package, perhaps on Fox; a lengthening of the regular season to 17 or 18 weeks, with teams still playing 16 games apiece; or the addition of another round of playoff games.
Owners have seen the skyrocketing fees paid for baseball rights and expect the new contract to increase their own TV revenues by at least 50% over the $17.1 million per team they earned in 1989. If it doesn't? Well, you saw what happened last July, when the Young Turks among the NFL owners didn't like the old guard's choice of Saints president Jim Finks for commissioner. It's possible that a contract worth only, say, $23 million per team per season could be thrown back in Modell's face.
The 49ers' victory wasn't the only brilliant sports performance of Super Bowl week. Upset that fans had selected the Lakers' A.C. Green—and not him—to start for the Western Conference in the Feb. 11 NBA All-Star Game, Jazz forward Karl Malone almost single-handedly dismantled the Bucks last Saturday night in Salt Lake City. Malone piled up 61 points and 18 rebounds in only 33 minutes as Utah handed Milwaukee its worst defeat ever, 144-96. Afterward, Malone said that he was scrapping his announced threat to boycott the All-Star Game.
"I knew Karl wanted to make a statement," said Bucks coach Del Harris. "I just didn't know he was going to write a whole book. I told him before the game that if he wanted to make a statement, then he should do it while the issue is hot and not play tonight."
It's absurd that Malone didn't make the West's starting lineup, but that's what the NBA gets for letting fans do the choosing. How parochial is the fan voting? Almost 75% of the voters didn't think that Chicago's Michael Jordan deserved to start for the Eastern Conference. Fortunately, Jordan got enough votes to make the starting team anyway.
THEY SAID IT
•Karl Mecklenburg, Bronco linebacker, on what his team would need to do to beat the 49ers: "Defensively, I think it's important for us to tackle."