Long's suicide try spotlights steroid policy NFL takes no action

he's still on roster

August 05, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- When the Pittsburgh Steelers opened their exhibition season against the Washington Redskins last night, guard Terry Long was still officially on their roster.

Yes, the same Terry Long who tried to commit suicide July 24 after flunking a steroid test.

Despite that well-publicized incident, the NFL hasn't taken action in the case.

"Terry Long has not been suspended," Greg Aiello, NFL director of communications, said last week. "Until a player has been suspended, he is eligible to practice with his team."

Meanwhile, Long was released Wednesday from the psychiatric ward of Allegheny General Hospital.

Karen Long, a hospital spokeswoman who is not related to Long, declined to describe his condition, citing rules of patient privacy.

But the doctors didn't attempt to go to court to get an order to keep him in the hospital, which they normally do with psychiatric patients they feel need more treatment.

That leaves Long, who has not commented on the situation, at home trying to decide what his next move will be.

Steelers coach Chuck Noll said he talked recently with Long.

"I asked him what his plans are, and he said he really didn't know right now," Noll told Pittsburgh reporters.

It's uncertain how the Steelers will react if Long tries to return before the league takes action.

"We'd have to see what condition he's in and things like that. We'd sit down and discuss it and evaluate where he is," club president Dan Rooney said.

Long, 32, faced a duel with Carlton Haselrig, 25, for a starting job. Since Long wasn't included on Pittsburgh's 37-man Plan B protected list and Haselrig was, Long seemed to face an uphill battle. But Noll likes players who respond positively to challenges.

"I guess other people's opinions affected Terry," Noll said. "What you have to do is have the resolve to go in and earn the spot. Competition shouldn't put you in the tank. Competition should be a spur. If it's not, then you have a problem."

It's also uncertain whether Long will be suspended for four games for flunking the steroid test.

The league suspended 13 players two years ago and three last year for flunking steroid tests but Long's negative test was revealed before the league announced a suspension. That's the first time that has happened.

It also was the first time a negative test was revealed before a second test could be conducted of a split sample and before a hearing was conducted.

Dick Berthelsen, general counsel for the NFL Players Association, said last week that some appeals have been successful but have not been made public.

That announcement raised questions about the quality of the NFL drug-testing program. Allegations about slipshod practices in the labs by Sports Illustrated and Roberta Baskin, a Washington TV reporter, led to the firing of Dr. Forest Tennant as adviser of the drug program a year ago. Whether the testing process has improved in the past year is impossible to determine.

Long's friends have hired a lawyer, George Saunders, who says he has represented players in successful appeals after positive tests for drugs but not for steroids.

"I have not been remotely involved in anything like this," Saunders said.

It is uncertain whether the league's random testing program for steroids would withstand a court challenge.

The NFL Players Association hasn't challenged the steroids testing program because it is taking the position that it is not a union.

When the street-drug program was challenged by the NFLPA, an arbitrator ruled the league couldn't test randomly unless it had probable cause, although Long apparently flunked the standard training camp test July 11.

Long's negative test, which followed former player Lyle Alzado's contention that his brain cancer is due to steroids, also raises questions about how widespread steroid use is in the NFL.

Bruce Collie, a Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman, told the Philadelphia Daily News he used steroids as a member of the San Francisco 49ers from 1985-89, although he said he began phasing out their use after the league began its testing program in 1987 and hasn't flunked any tests. He's the only player to admit past steroid use since Long's suicide try.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.