Redskins divided on NFL policy for drunken-driving Commissioner's new penalty too tough, some players say

July 23, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

CARLISLE, PA. — Because of an editing error, it was incorrectly reported in yesterday's early editions of The Sun that Washington Redskins player Clarence Vaughn had been convicted on a drunken-driving charge. Vaughn was arrested on the charge but not convicted.

CARLISLE, Pa. -- When Jim Hanifan, offensive-line coach of the Washington Redskins, was coaching in Atlanta, he was convicted on a drunken-driving charge shortly after the end of the 1989 season.

He made sure it never would happen again.

"I haven't had a drink since," Hanifan said yesterday. "I thought, 'Hey, I know how to handle this one.' A lot of times with problems, you're kind of debating, 'Should I do this, should I do that?' This was relatively simple. I just decided I know how to resolve that."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The NFL is still trying to find ways to resolve its drunken-driving problem.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has announced he'll suspend players for four games the first time they're convicted of drunken driving, although each player will get a hearing before action is taken.

"I think it's probably a good idea," Hanifan said, although it's not certain if the rule will apply to coaches.

The league hasn't formally notified the players of the new policy, and, as the veterans reported to Redskins camp yesterday, several said they had heard nothing about it.

But after they were informed of the policy, the players were divided. Those who opposed it said the first-time penalty was too tough, and that players should receive a warning -- as they do when they flunk a drug test.

Safety Clarence Vaughn, who once was arrested, but not convicted, on a drunken-driving charge, said: "I think it's a pretty tough penalty. At least with drugs, you get three times. One time, bam, you're suspended. I don't think it's fair."

Actually, a player is suspended for four games for a second drug violation. The third one calls for a minimum suspension of one year.

Vaughn is the only current player who has been arrested on a DWI charge, although former Redskin Mark May, who is now with the San Diego Chargers, was convicted twice.

The Redskins were known as a world-class drinking team back in the days of running back John Riggins, who once passed out at a Washington banquet after telling U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "Loosen up, Sandy baby."

Some players said jokingly that the players who enjoy drinking with the team's so-called "5 o'clock club," would have to get limos to take them home.

But when they responded seriously, several players agreed with Vaughn that the first-time penalty was too high.

Tight end Ron Middleton said: "That could add up to some money, and the regular laws aren't that harsh. Maybe they should have probation the first time. I'm not a heavy drinker, but I do like to have a beer every now and then."

Offensive lineman Ed Simmons said: "I think that's taking it a little bit far. It's up to the laws of the U.S. to enforce any DWIs. It seems like they should leave it up to the state. I think the first time they should seek counseling."

Center Jeff Bostic said: "I don't think you should be out there drinking and driving, but the penalty might be a little harsh. It's awfully serious for the first time."

Among the players who agreed with the new rule was defensive lineman Tim Johnson, who said: "I think it's good. I guess this is one way to clean it up."

Linebacker Matt Millen said: "It makes no difference to me. I don't drink. If they start suspending guys for overeating, then I'll have to start worrying about it."

Offensive lineman Russ Grimm said: "I think it's a good rule. I think they're trying to set a standard for young kids."

But though they were divided on this issue, the players agreed that Lyle Alzado, who is suffering from brain cancer that he attributes to steroid use, was wrong when he said 75 percent of the players use steroids.

"Back in his day, I'd say 50 to 70 percent, but I'll tell you now it's non-existent. The hip thing now is to be clean," defensive lineman Eric Williams said.

"I really think it's anti-cool," Williams said. "I think in the '80s, everybody lived to excess. In the '90s, everybody is starting to cut back on their lifestyles."

Williams, Jim Lachey and Middleton all said they were aware of steroid use by players in the past, although Middleton said he'd known only one player to use it.

All the players said Alzado's estimate would be wide of the mark today.

"I think that's an outrageous percentage," Bostic said. "Now there's off-season testing, in-season testing. I don't know how anybody can get around it."

Simmons said, "I might be blind or something, but I never thought it was a problem."

NOTES: The Redskins anticipated coming to terms with Martin Mayhew yesterday, so they cut 5 free agents to slice their roster to 81 players. That means they won't have to cut a player today when Mayhew is expected to start practice. A team is allowed 80 signed players, but QB Mark Rypien doesn't count because he's not signed. . . . Veteran DL Darryl Grant

(calf muscle) joined RB John Settle (bruised ribs) and OL Mohammed Elewonibi (knee) on the sidelines.

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