Fralic not surprised by recent allegations
Bill Fralic, who blew the whistle on the abuse of performance enhancers 17 years ago, isn't surprised by Jon Jansen's recent remarks about HGH use.
ATLANTA -- Popular perception has long held that if there was any group of players who might be most naturally drawn toward thumbing their noses at the league's steroid and banned substances policies and risking future health ramifications for present power, it would be offensive linemen.
Something about better blocking and more behemoth body mass through the incorporation of better chemicals into the training regimen, you know?
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However, it isn't as if Jansen, who last week spoke with NFL officials by conference call about his remarks, is the first offensive lineman to sound such a public alarm.
Seventeen years ago, then-Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Bill Fralic was the initial whistle-blower in the battle against steroids and other illegal substances, and he used much stronger language, and in front of a much more significant audience than a cable television show provides. In May 1989, Fralic testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee that three out of four linemen, linebackers and tight ends used anabolic steroids, and suggested that most coaches ignored the warning signs.
Fralic, who was deemed "refreshing and believable" after his 40-minute appearance by then-committee chairman Sen. Joe Biden, employed the term "rampant" at least three times in his testimony.
Thirteen years removed from his nine-season career and admittedly not nearly as in touch with the NFL game as when he was mauling defensive linemen, Fralic isn't certain the rampant charge stills holds. That said, he is not particularly surprised by Jansen's charges, or the published reports that allege steroid abuse by several Carolina Panthers players during the 2003 season.
"I'm probably not the best guy to discuss it, because I've been away from it for a while now, and haven't kept up with it like I used to," said Fralic, who was selected to four Pro Bowls and the NFL's team of the decade (1980s) during his eight seasons with the Falcons (1985-92) and one with the Detroit Lions (1993). "But I know that 15 or 20 years ago, the [financial] stakes were high enough that guys would do a lot of things to stay in the game. And the stakes are even higher now, right, relatively speaking? So really, from purely a common sense standpoint, you would think there is something going on. I mean, I'd be surprised if there wasn't."
Fralic, 43, acknowledged that during his stellar career at the University of Pittsburgh, which subsequently earned him membership in the college football Hall of Fame, he experimented with anabolic steroids because he wasn't realizing the desired results in the weight room. But he stopped when he went to the NFL, in part because of the random testing and because he became better educated about long-term health implications. And he discovered just how unfairly skewed his abstinence rendered the playing field.
He may have been regarded as one of the NFL's most notorious cheap-shot linemen by his opponents, but Fralic never tested dirty on a random drug screening. He was the lone player among the select group that was invited to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and, on several occasions, Fralic privately implored then-commissioner Pete Rozelle to expand random testing and toughen league rules.
"Here was my feeling: If Bill Fralic wasn't good enough to play at a high level without that stuff, then so be it, I just had to live with that," said Fralic, who is now the analyst for Pitt radio broadcasts. "I mean, it was kind of a [qualm] of conscience. But if I wasn't going to do it, and I was going to play without anything extra, I wanted everyone else that I was playing against to be the same way. I just wanted a level environment, that's all."
These days, he continues to operate Bill Fralic Insurance Services in suburban Atlanta, and his principle clients are trucking firms. His exposure to the game in general is pretty limited to his weekend radio work on the Pitt broadcasts. But Fralic is a sharp guy, one whose mental acumen is often overshadowed by his wry-but-cutting humor, and he still talks to a lot of former NFL players.
One thing about Fralic that hasn't changed from his career as a player -- and never will -- is the strong and opinionated stance he takes. Always a stand-up guy, he remains so, whether the debate is football, a preferred cut of steak, or politics.
He knows he wasn't just crying wolf in 1989, when he sought to explain the disadvantages encountered by "clean" players, and the unfair benefits enjoyed by cheaters. And he figures that Jansen, even if he has backed off some of his statements and tempered his criticism in the crucible of public opinion, must have justification for his remarks.
"I don't know [Jansen], and as I said, I've been away from it and can't speak with direct knowledge now, but my personal sense is that you just don't make this stuff up," Fralic said. "Look, I loved playing in the NFL, and what it meant for me. The league is probably doing everything it can. But the history is that the bad guys are always a step ahead of the law. It's a tough curve, and if you want to cheat badly enough, new opportunities are going to be out there. It's just a hard thing to control totally."
It was a hard thing, too, for Fralic to be so outspoken in 1989, and his testimony certainly aligned him against some players and against the NFL Players Association and executive director Gene Upshaw. Fralic recalled that at the time of his Senate appearance, he was the Atlanta NFLPA representative, a tenure that did not last much beyond his testimony.
While his efforts to pull back the curtain on the NFL's problem at the time didn't make him a pariah, it did not sit well even with some teammates. And for a guy already despised by some defensive linemen for a style of play that stretched most blocking rules, his stance made him an even bigger target.
Seventeen years later, though, there is no second-guessing. Nor, said Fralic, should Jansen or any other players who call attention to what they perceive as problems with banned substances regret going public with their suspicions.
"I don't recall, honestly, that guys gave me that tough a time about it," Fralic said. "I'm sure there were people who thought, 'Who the hell does this jagoff think he is airing our dirty laundry like that?' But it really didn't affect my career and it wasn't like guys accused me of ratting them out. From a conscience standpoint, I could put my head on the pillow at night and not lose any sleep, because it was something I felt strongly about. I certainly wasn't worried about winning any popularity contests.
"It was the right thing then. And I'd say it's probably still the right thing."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .