Drug abuse in professional sports became a hot-button issue in the early 1980s, as several celebrated cases helped focus attention on the topic. This coincided with societyÆs changing attitudes about drugs as America moved from the lax 1970s to the more conservative 1980s. The major pro sports leagues in the United States responded by implementing drug control programs, which have largely succeeded in removing the topic from the headlines, or at least pushing it to the back pages. This paper will examine the drug testing of professional athletes, from the contentious first steps in the early 1980s until today, where concern over performance enhancing drugs has refocused the effort away from traditional illegal substances.
Pro sports leagues derive their power to test athletes for drugs from collective bargaining agreements and the leaguesÆ by-laws. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) requires an employer to bargain collectively with the representatives of the employees over mandatory subjects, which are ôwages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.ö Drug testing is a ôterm and condition of employmentö (Jefferson, 1997). Thus, the player unions of each major sport have consented to drug testing, with such consent later ratified by a union-wide vote, though not in baseball.
These agreements have rarely been the subject of litigation, for two seasons. First, the NLRA states a preference for grievance resolution by arbitration. Congress believed that for collective bargaining to function effectively, the parties could not attempt to rewrite the agreement by constantly going to court. Courts have adhered to this line, displaying great reticence to become involved in such situations. Therefore, for the most part, the only recourse for players is via their labor agreementÆs mandated procedures, and the outcome, as determined by an arbitrator, is almost always final (Jefferson, 1997).