An attorney representing Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster said his client's recent positive drug test results from the NFL were in error, and that two additional tests conducted by private laboratories were negative.
Webster, 31, has been suspended from the league indefinitely pending an appeal. His lawyer, Mike Baird from the Chicago-based firm of Stotis and Baird, said the league took a urine sample from Webster on Feb. 23 and notified him 30 days later that he was suspended because of cocaine use.
Baird adamantly denied that his client had ever used cocaine and released test results from a toxicology report from Associated Pathologists Laboratories in Las Vegas, which were negative. Webster's results were also negative for amphetamines, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP) and marijuana. The test was taken March 14.
According to the test results, if a drug was reported negative, it means that either no drug was detected, or if a drug was detected, it was present at a concentration less than the laboratory's established cutoff level. Baird said APL's level and the league were the same at 150 nanograms per milliliter.
Baird said the results from another independent laboratory were not available, but they also were negative. In both cases, Baird said tests were done from more reliable hair follicles than the urine samples used by the league.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would have no comment.
"The league essentially does kind of a high-volume, low-quality test, so it's one of the least expensive available," Baird said. "It came out positive, so we went out and had two more expensive tests done. Hair follicles would reveal any cocaine in Larry Webster's system from the previous 90 days, but the tests were negative.
"These tests are accepted under federal guidelines and sanctioned by the league under their own drug and substance abuse policy," Baird said. "Larry didn't do this and quite candidly, this is something he would never do. He has never used this particular drug."
Webster, who has tested positive for marijuana or alcohol on at least three other occasions, could be suspended for more than a year if he loses the appeal. Team sources have said they would waive Webster if he is suspended.
Webster has a troubled history in the league. His last suspension was for the entire 1996 season after he admitted to consuming a beer at his bachelor party two nights before he was married. Players are not allowed to drink any alcohol after one violation.
Twice he reportedly tested positive for marijuana, once when he was with the Miami Dolphins, and later during the 1995 season with the Cleveland Browns, when he was suspended for six games. According to league policy, Webster was subject to up to 10 urine tests per month at the direction of the NFL medical adviser.
"Larry had the one incident where he consumed alcohol and two incidents for marijuana use many years ago," Baird said of the former University of Maryland star and Elkton native. "But cocaine has been totally out of his life and this is coming out of left field, which is making it more frustrating for Larry."
Baird is not certain the league will give Webster a fair hearing at the appeal. Webster's suspension comes at a time when the league is having image problems, with players such as the Ravens' Ray Lewis, former Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth and Green Bay tight end Mark Chmura having been charged with serious crimes.
"The biggest difficulty about the whole process is that the prosecution charges you for the offense, then the prosecution determines if you are guilty or not," Baird said. "The person who hears the appeal is the person who charged you in the first place, unlike being heard by a neutral party.
"Once something like this becomes public before the appeal, there is great pressure for the league to become image conscious. The NFL is as image conscious as anyone and they may not want to admit they made a mistake. They may also not want him to get off because the public will see the league as being too soft. That just makes this road even tougher for Larry to overcome.
"But Larry has a good support system in place. His counselor has given him support, his position coach, Ozzie Newsome [Ravens vice president of player personnel] and even the Ravens showed faith in him by giving him a new contract."
The Ravens signed Webster to a three-year deal worth $5 million on Feb. 15, which was to include a $1.5 million signing bonus. According to a team source, Webster already has received $400,000 of the signing bonus, which he'll have to repay if he doesn't play during the 2000 season. If Webster cannot repay the money, then the Ravens will be allowed the $400,000 in additional salary cap room.
The team also will retain Webster's rights if he is suspended. Webster, 6 feet 5, 305 pounds, was one of the team's unsung heroes last season. He became a full-time starter for the first time in his seven-year career and finished with 44 tackles.