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Punishment averted for pre-Oct. 6 positives

OAKLAND, Calif. -- NFL players who used the steroid THG
before the league began testing for it will avoid possible
suspensions until next season.

However, players who now test positive for the previously
undetectable drug will face immediate discipline, including
four-game suspensions, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Thursday in
a memo to NFL clubs.

No players have tested positive for THG since random testing
began Oct. 6, the league and union said. About 1,000 samples have
been tested.

Players who tested positive for THG in samples collected before
Oct. 6 still could be fined this season, league spokesman Greg
Aiello said.

Tagliabue wrote that there was "uncertainty whether suspensions
based upon pre-October 6 tests could be imposed during the 2003
season with the requisite competitive fairness for all 32 teams."

Last Sunday, CBS reported that four members of the Oakland Raiders -- center Barret Robbins, linebacker Bill Romanowski and
defensive linemen Dana Stubblefield and Chris Cooper -- had tested
positive for THG. The NFL hasn't commented specifically on the
Raiders, and the report didn't indicate when the samples were
taken.

"Everything that has transpired with these rumored reports is
purely and strictly speculation," Raiders coach Bill Callahan
said. "It just appears to me that whatever has occurred has been
strictly confidential and remains confidential."

The league and the union still are negotiating over how to
punish players for a positive test from a sample obtained before
Oct. 6.

Usually, the penalty for a positive test is a four-game
suspension, and just six weeks remain in the regular season. The
league rarely issues a suspension stretching across two seasons.

In addition, more tests must be conducted after a positive test
to ensure accuracy. Most importantly, any player testing positive
could appeal a suspension -- a process that could take several more
weeks.

"This is not about winning," said Gene Upshaw, the union's
executive director. "This is strictly about the process."

Such suspensions would mark the first time THG has been linked
directly to any sport outside track and field, which already has
had at least five athletes test positive for the steroid.