More drug reports drop Sapp from top five to No. 12 selection

April 23, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

ASHBURN, Va. -- Warren Sapp was invited by the NFL to New York yesterday to celebrate his selection in the NFL draft.

The University of Miami defensive tackle, who was supposed to be one of the top five or six picks in the draft, found he didn't have much to celebrate.

The day turned out to be nightmarish for him. He dropped to the 12th selection in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after reports surfaced that the league told NFL teams Friday that he had failed seven drug tests -- six for marijuana and one for cocaine -- in college.

It was the second report in a month about drug use by Sapp. Last month, the New York Times said he flunked tests for marijuana and cocaine at the league's scouting combine. The NFL denied the cocaine report, but didn't comment on the marijuana report.

Sapp confirmed yesterday he flunked a marijuana test as a freshman in college and at the combine, but denied the other reports.

ESPN and Newsday first reported Sapp had flunked the seven tests in college. ESPN also reported that Seattle Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson, who was Sapp's college coach, said in a phone conversation that Sapp had flunked two in college.

In an on-camera interview, Erickson told ESPN that the reports of seven positive drug tests were "absolutely a lie."

When Erickson was asked if he told ESPN on the phone that Sapp flunked two tests, he said: "All I'm telling you is that I can't talk about any of the players at the University of Miami as far as drug testing is concerned. That's all I can tell you."

Sapp, who called the reports of flunking multiple tests "ridiculous," said: "I'm just ready to move on and play some ball. There's always somebody looking to knock you off a pedestal. It doesn't really bother me that much."

The Boston Globe reported that, after Sapp was bypassed with the ninth pick, Bucs general manager Rich McKay called agent Drew Rosenhaus and Sapp at draft headquarters in New York. McKay told the two that the Bucs would draft Sapp only if he agreed to a drug program and a contract that would include heavy financial penalties if the player failed a drug test, the Globe said. Sapp reportedly approved the deal.

(If he did have a positive test at the scouting combine, Sapp would have become part of the NFL's drug program anyway.)

Bucs coach Sam Wyche said: "He will want to prove himself. When you come in like this, so exposed, so publicly being pointed to like this, I think it's in your favor. [You think,] 'I want everyone to know I can control myself. I have maybe stubbed my toe, but I'm a different guy. I'm made from different fiber, and I'm going to prove it to my public.' "

In a carefully worded denial, a league spokesman said the league didn't provide the clubs with any written reports about Sapp's flunking multiple drug tests. But that left open the possibility of oral reports.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in an ESPN interview: "I think two things can be said right now. No. 1, the teams obviously have an interest in all aspects of a player's health and physical condition and potential down the road, and that includes whether there's a substance abuse question. That's a legitimate interest the clubs have."

Tagliabue added there's also a problem of confidentiality.

"I think equally strong is the player's interest that it should be handled confidentially," he said. "We're going to look into it early next week. I've been spending some time already today looking into exactly what happened. If there's action to be taken, we'll take it. [The NFL will] either sanction somebody or rectify it for the future if there was a problem."

In any case, dropping in the draft probably cost Sapp $400,000 to $500,000 a year for the next four years.

Last year, defensive linemen selected with the fourth and seventh selections, Willie McGinest and Bryant Young, got contracts averaging $1.55 million and $1.37 million. By contrast, Joe Johnson, the 13th pick last year, got a deal averaging $953,000.

If Sapp doesn't have a problem, the Bucs may have gotten a bargain.

Rosenhaus said: "Anybody who thinks Warren Sapp is the 12th pick in the draft is on drugs."

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