The NFL has given notice to its players that it's no more acceptable to use steroids than cocaine.
In fact, as of now, steroids are techically less acceptable than the so-called "street drugs."Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced Tuesday that beginning next season, any player testing positive for steroids - even for the first time - will be automatically suspended for a minimum of 30 days. Second-time offenders in a given season will be suspnded for the balance of the season.
Users of cocaine and other illegal substances aren't suspended until their second violation. First-time offenders are warned and, in some cases, given counseling.
Rozelle, who said the more stringent policy on steroids was the result of an arbitrator's ruling in 1986 that limited penalties for substance abuse, said he deliberately announced the new policy now to give players currently on steroids time to get off them before they are tested early in training camp next July.
"We want them to stop using steroids," he said. "This should be a very positive incentive to do so."
The NFL has tested its players for steroids in each of the past two seasons but has not imposed penalties for their use. Rozelle said that between 7 and 8 percent of the 2,500 players tested in each of those two years had tested positive, a figure slightly higher than the 6 percent the league had previously given.
Rozelle said the new policy also was aimed at detecting steroid screening agents, usually diuretics. It requires any players using those agents for other medical reasons to present a doctor's note explaining why.
The NFL also took action Tuesday at its owners meeting to crack down on another element owners feel was hurting competitive balance - loud home crowds who disrupt the signal-calling of visiting teams.
In what Tex Schramm, chairman of the Competition Committee called "an upset," the owners approved by the bare three-fourths margin needed a measure that will allow referees to take away timeouts or penalize teams that can't silence their crowds. Three teams that play in domes - Minnesota, Detroit and New Orleans - voted for the measure though domes are the arenas where the problem is most pronounced.
The owners also approved unanimously a resolution that would impose penalties ranging from fines and suspension to loss of a draft choice against any team feigning injury. Seattle's Joe Nash acknowledged he did in the Seahawks' playoff game against Cincinnati in an effort to slow down the Bengals' no-huddle offense.
But the major development of the day was the announcement of the new steroid policy, after which Rozelle said, "I think this gives us the most stringent drug program in any sport."
Rozelle released a letter mailed to all players and prospective rookies warning that they will be tested at the start of training camp. The results will be announced before the last exhibition game and any player testing positive will miss that game and the first three of the regular season or until he tests negative, whichever is longer.