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Lett Suspended One Year

December 4, 1996

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ The Dallas Cowboys started the season without their best receiver because of an NFL drug suspension, and they’ll finish the year without their best defensive lineman for the same reason.

Tackle Leon Lett was suspended Tuesday for at least one year _ effective immediately _ for violating the league’s drug policy a second time. Lett was suspended for four games in 1995 and told that another violation would land him a minimum of a one-year suspension without pay.

Coach Barry Switzer said the team is determined to win without its star lineman.

``We’re playing without Charles Haley. We’re playing without (Jay) Novacek. Now we’re going to play without Leon,″ Switzer said. ``He’s not the only reason we’ve won on this football team.″

Jerry Jones, who last week denied any knowledge of a possible suspension for Lett, issued a one-paragraph statement Tuesday.

``On behalf of the Dallas Cowboys, this is a time of concern for Leon Lett the person,″ Jones said. ``Our thoughts are with him and his family. And we will continue to offer our help and support any way we can. ″

Teammates expressed concern for Lett’s well-being.

``I don’t want to be shallow enough to look at it in terms of how it affects us on the football field,″ quarterback Troy Aikman said. ``I think there’s a bigger issue here and one that Leon needs to address. We hope to be able to help him through it.″

Said fullback Daryl Johnston: ``He is going to have a difficult time restoring confidence with the public and with the team. It’s a difficult situation.″

Lett is only the latest Cowboy in hot water over drug problems. Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Irvin was suspended for the first five games of the season after pleading no contest to drug charges stemming from an arrest.

Five Dallas players _ Lett, Irvin, Clayton Holmes, Corey Fleming and Shante Carver _ have been suspended since 1994 for violations of the league’s drug policy.

``I want everyone to know that everyone on that football team knows what the rules are,″ veteran safety Bill Bates said. ``The rules are not there to be broken.″

Lett, the Cowboys’ best defensive lineman and a former Pro Bowl player, will be replaced in the lineup by Tony Casillas. The defending Super Bowl champions (8-5) are tied for first place in the NFC East.

``The burden will now be on the offense, like it was on the defense earlier in the season when Irvin was suspended,″ Johnston said. ``We will have to raise our level of play. It’s for sure the defense won’t be as good without him.″

Lett, 28, was recently informed that he had violated the policy, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. Lett appealed the penalty to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who denied the appeal.

Lett was not available for comment. He canceled a scheduled radio talk show appearance.

His agent, Jim Steiner, was traveling and not in his office, his secretary in St. Louis told The Associated Press.

Lett has been tested up to 10 times per month since the NFL suspended him last season.

According to the NFL’s substance policy, a suspended player may not participate with his team in any way during the time he is out. A player suspended for one year can apply for re-instatement no sooner than 60 days prior to the one-year anniversary date of his suspension.

He is the leading tackler on the Cowboys’ top-rated defense. He has recorded 3 1/2 sacks and recovered two fumbles.

In addition to his drug history, Lett might be best known for two gaffes during games.

With the Cowboys leading comfortably in the 1993 Super Bowl, Lett recovered a fumble, and holding it in one hand, returned it 64 yards, only to have Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe catch him from behind at the goal line and strip the ball before Lett could score.

In a 1993 Thanksgiving Day game played in snow, Lett bungled an attempted recovery after a kick was blocked in the closing seconds, giving the Miami Dolphins a second chance to kick a game-winning field goal.

The Cowboys have been involved in a number of off-the-field incidents in recent years besides Irvin’s drug trial.

_October 1994: Offensive lineman Erik Williams was involved in a one-car wreck, and sustained a right knee injury that sidelined him until next season. He later pleaded no contest and received two years’ probation on a misdemeanor drunken driving offense.

_April 1994: A 17-year-old topless dancer accused Williams of sexually assaulting her at his North Dallas home. A grand jury decided not to charge Williams two months later after the teen-ager refused to cooperate with prosecutors following an out-of-court settlement with the football star.

_November 1995: The NFL suspended Holmes for a year following a positive drug test.

_April 1996: A Dallas grand jury indicted Irvin and two women on drug charges. Irvin pleaded no contest and was put on four years probation and fined $10,000.

The last time Lett was suspended he issued this statement: ``I regret that this situation has occurred and I apologize for any actions on my part that led to the suspension. I regret that this situation has occurred and I apologize to my family, my teammates, Jerry Jones, the entire Cowboys organization and all of my loyal fans who have supported me. I hope to put this behind me as soon as possible.″

Lett was a seventh-round draft pick in 1991 out of Emporia State. Then-coach Jimmy Johnson took a chance on Lett because of his imposing size _ 6-foot-6, 300-plus pounds. He quickly established himself as one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. His quickness has earned him the nickname ``The Big Cat″ with teammates.

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