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As Accusations Fly in Track, Talk Turns to Suits

September 27, 1989|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

Emerging from amid the tumult a week after allegations of drug use among top U.S. athletes, there is this one simple update: Everyone involved is exploring legal options.

A week ago, Stern, a West German news magazine, published an article in which a 400-meter runner identified several U.S. athletes as having bought or used banned performance-enhancing drugs.

Among the allegations made by Darrell Robinson:

--1988 Olympic triple-gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner bought from him 10 cubic centimeters of human growth hormone, a banned substance.

--He saw sprinter Carl Lewis inject himself with what Robinson believed was testosterone, also a banned substance.

--Coach Bobby Kersee supplied him with two different kinds of anabolic steroids.

Reaction to the article was swift and furious. After a spate of strong denials--Lewis said Robinson was "in grave need of psychiatric treatment" and Griffith Joyner called him "a crazy lunatic"--came the many threats of defamation lawsuits.

Robinson is reportedly considering suing Griffith Joyner and her husband Al, who both called him a liar on national television.

Griffith Joyner's manager, Gordon Baskin, said he is vigorously pursuing all "legal options," including suing both Robinson and the magazine.

Carl Lewis' attorney, David Griefinger, said that although he was still considering suing, it was beginning to look as if such a move would be economically prohibitive. To sue Stern would mean dealing with West German courts, and to sue Robinson would mean dealing with Canadian courts.

"The cost of depositions alone is amazing," Griefinger said.

With all the talk, no suits have been filed.

Meanwhile, officials of The Athletics Congress, the national governing body for track and field, met in New York this week to determine their course of action in response to the allegations.

Officials discussed whether the federation should conduct an investigation, and if so, what form such an inquiry should take. TAC president Frank Greenberg said that the meetings were strategy sessions and that no formal decision was made.

Greenberg said, however: "The key is that we have to have an independent panel. I think we are going to do something that is truly enlightened."

TAC's options are limited. Any in-house investigation would be hampered by the group's lack of subpoena power. Without that, a true investigation would be difficult.

One possibility is for TAC to establish a hearing process in which athletes could come forward and make allegations that would then be investigated.

That is precisely the process that failed to work in the case of track coach Chuck DeBus.

TAC established a three-person panel to investigate allegations that DeBus, a former UCLA women's track coach, had provided drugs for his athletes. After six months of investigation, TAC canceled the scheduled hearing last Wednesday and announced that DeBus had agreed to a two-year voluntary suspension from the sport.

However, at least two of the panel members were not consulted about the agreement, and an investigation of TAC's bylaws revealed that the agreement was not reached in accordance with them. Now, a week later, the DeBus case has yet to be resolved and the panel is considering its next move.

Edwin Moses, who heads the U.S. Olympic Committee's substance-abuse committee, said athletes have called him to express their anger at TAC decisions, including the DeBus case and the recent dismissal of the cases against two athletes who tested positive for testosterone.

Moses, who is also on TAC's athletes' advisory committee, said any investigation should be independent of TAC.

"My personal feeling is that it's going to be difficult for TAC to do its own investigation, due to the way the Chuck DeBus situation was handled," he said. "I know I speak for a lot of athletes when I say that. Our bylaws call for a review board to have jurisdiction over these things. That didn't happen. Obviously, something is wrong. In addition to the testosterone cases . . . I don't think that's a good message. I've gotten a lot of calls from athletes. I wouldn't say we are a happy group now."

Moses said that athletes are convinced that only an open investigation of all recent drug allegations can hope to rid the sport of illegal drugs.

"The doping situation is a catastrophe now," he said. "We, the athletes, are the last line of defense on doping. We want it cleaned up."

Robinson, who was the world junior record-holder at 400 meters, has been under fire since appearing opposite Griffith Joyner on "The Today Show" last Thursday. There have reportedly been death threats made against him, his wife and their young daughter. Robinson, who lives in the Toronto area, is said to be moving, out of concern for his family's safety.

And Stern, in today's edition, has a story on the international reaction to its story last week. The various threats of lawsuits are mentioned, which the magazine refers to as "Warfare, American style."

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