The National Football League suspended six players who tested positive for drugs in their routine camp physicals, including the Raiders' Greg Townsend who, the team said Friday, had "small traces of marijuana in his urine."
It was the largest en masse suspension in league history and raised the question of whether the league's drug-prevention policy is working.
All six were barred from practice for 30 days, starting last Wednesday, until Sept. 2. Since players aren't paid during camp, they will forfeit only their per diem allowances--about $500 a week.
They will be eligible to rejoin their teams for the start of the regular season.
Some appear to have been repeat offenders. The Raiders, for instance, said that Townsend's offense was his second. Asked if all were repeat offenders, a league spokesman said he could neither confirm nor deny it.
Suspended Friday along with Townsend were Robb Riddick of the Buffalo Bills, Doug DuBose of the San Francisco 49ers, Kevin Gogan of the Dallas Cowboys, Rick Reed of the Denver Broncos and Pat Saindon of the Atlanta Falcons.
It isn't known specifically whether DuBose has a prior offense, but 49er Coach Bill Walsh said Thursday that before the suspension was handed down, the team had been "working with Doug for some time" and that DuBose had been "dealing with his non-football illness problem very well."
Walsh also said that "a dictum did come down from the league office" and that this was "a league decision, not a 49er decision."
The largest previous group suspension occurred in 1983, when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended four players--Ross Browner, Pete Johnson, Greg Stemrick and E. J. Junior--although under different circumstances, an NFL spokesman noted. Junior and Stemrick had been legally implicated in drug cases. Johnson and Browner had admitted taking drugs but had been granted immunity in another case.
Of the players named Friday, more is known about Townsend's case than the others, since the Raiders acknowledged that he had tested positive for marijuana and that this was his second offense.
Said Raider Coach Mike Shanahan, in a prepared statement:
"We have been notified that Greg Townsend had small traces of marijuana in his urine, as disclosed by the lab result in the standard NFL drug test he took at the beginning of training camp.
"This is a second offense which results in a 30-day suspension, thus eliminating Greg from participation in any preseason games."
Townsend, 26, is the Raiders' designated pass rusher and led the team last season with 8 1/2 sacks. With Howie Long hurt, he had been scheduled to start tonight's exhibition opener against the 49ers in San Francisco.
Neither Townsend nor his agent, Leonard Roth of Houston, could be reached for comment.
In a similar case late last month, the Washington Redskins' Dexter Manley was suspended for 30 days for what was called "minor" substance abuse. Manley is also a repeat offender. He spent a month at the Hazelden Foundation, a substance-abuse center near Minneapolis, last year.
Manley has said he was happy about his sentence, which has been widely criticized elsewhere as too lenient.
Said New York Giants center Bart Oates: "That's like giving him a vacation. He probably laughed all the way home."
Said the San Francisco Chronicle's Ray Ratto: "Rozelle threw the booklet at him."