Former NFL lineman pleads guilty to lying to feds

Updated: January 18, 2008, 9:33 PM ET
By Mark Fainaru-Wada | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Dana Stubblefield, a four-time All-Pro lineman who played 11 seasons in the NFL, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of lying to federal agents when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs as part of the ongoing BALCO steroids saga.

His sentencing is scheduled for April 25. The maximum sentence is five years in prison, but, based on sentencing guidelines and other cases, Stubblefield is likely to receive anywhere from no jail time to six months.

[+] EnlargeDana Stubblefield
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDana Stubblefield is looking at possible prison time for making false statements to BALCO investigators.

Stubblefield, 37, was one of at least eight National Football League players who testified in the fall of 2003 before a grand jury investigating the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to elite athletes in the NFL, Major League Baseball and track and field.

However, prior to his testimony, Stubblefield met with Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative lead investigator Jeff Novitzky of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations Unit and lied three times during the conversations, according to court records.

The records state Stubblefield lied when he said:

• He had neither seen nor ingested the designer steroid known in the case as "the clear."

• He had neither seen nor injected the oxygen-boosting drug EPO.

• He had never received either item through BALCO.

Stubblefield was suspended by the NFL in 2003 while playing for the Oakland Raiders, after testing positive for THG, also known as "the clear." Also, according to the documents, he tested positive in 2002 for EPO, as part of BALCO's screening process to research whether performance-enhancing substances would be detected. The NFL, which has come through the past several years largely unscathed by a stream of steroid scandals in other sports, did not test for EPO at the time.

This year, the league announced it was adding EPO to its list of banned substances.

The NFL sent a letter dated Nov. 7, 2003, notifying Stubblefield of his positive test for THG; a week later, he sat down with federal agents and made his denials, according to the court records.

Stubblefield was at the Phillip Burton Federal Courthouse in San Francisco on Friday to register his plea.

The plea agreement with Stubblefield marks a continuation of the ongoing third phase of the BALCO probe: The government going after athletes and coaches it believes lied during the investigation. Last week, Marion Jones was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of lying to federal agents. One of those charges was connected to her claims to BALCO investigators she had never used performance-enhancing drugs.

Still pending are three additional cases. The most notable of those is home run king Barry Bonds, who faces four counts of lying to the BALCO grand jury and one count of obstructing justice. As well, track coach Trevor Graham and cyclist Tammy Thomas have been charged with lying in connection to the probe. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Stubblefield played his first five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, beginning in 1993. He was a key part of their Super Bowl champion team in 1994 and was named the league's defensive player of the year in 1997, when he had 15 sacks. Stubblefield played the next three seasons for the Washington Redskins, returned for two more years in San Francisco and then retired after a season in Oakland. That last season was when the BALCO case became public.

In 2005, Stubblefield began working as an assistant football coach at Valley Christian High School, a powerhouse in San Jose. When asked at the time about the lingering question of his connections to BALCO, Stubblefield told the San Jose Mercury News, "That's over with, man. I'm not here to talk about that."

The team's head coach and its athletic director said at the time that they were satisfied Stubblefield had addressed all of their questions regarding BALCO.

"What kids are going to see when they get to know Dana is a Christian role model, a man who is on a path like us," athletic director-defensive coordinator Eric Scharrenberg told the newspaper.

Reached Friday, head football coach-dean of students Mike Machado said he had known about Stubblefield's situation with the government for the past month. Machado said the two men spoke before Friday's hearing, that he wished Stubblefield well and that he hoped the former NFL standout would continue to coach at Valley Christian in the future.

"Dana has been a coach for us for the past three years and has been an outstanding coach and role model for our kids," Machado said.

Machado said Stubblefield had acknowledged his performance-enhancing drug use when he joined the coaching staff. Asked about suggestions that Stubblefield's lies to the government could raise questions about whether he should remain on staff, he said, "I don't have any comment on that."

Scharrenberg issued a statement Friday afternoon stating Stubblefield's contributions to the program were "greatly appreciated."

Regarding Stubblefield's future, the statement read: "Valley Christian School's employee contracts are reviewed and offered on an annual basis. Football coaching contracts ended at the conclusion of the 2007 football season."

Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-author of "Game of Shadows," is a reporter for ESPN. He can be reached at markfwespn@gmail.com. ESPN's Pedro Gomez contributed to this report.