Dwight Hicks has contacted me about this post to correct some misreporting by the San Francisco Chronicle about the circumstances that led to his departure from the team, as it is described below in excerpts from quotes and articles that appeared in the Chronicle in 1986. Look beneath the following description to see his firsthand account of what happened, with regard to both the contract dispute and the reports of cocaine use.
The 49ers released Dwight Hicks, who’d been named to four Pro Bowls, in June 1986, a week after releasing Renaldo Nehemiah. They offered him a three-year deal for about $1 million, and when Hicks rejected it, they released him rather than make a trade.
Bill Walsh said: “The negotiations were at an absolute impasse. After all the dialogue that had gone on, we honestly did not think that Dwight would be happy with the 49ers, feeling at some point that we did not treat him fairly.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Hicks was looking for $500,000 per year. Dave Perrine, his agent, said: “This may be the second stage of a policy that ‘we’re going to teach these vets a lesson. They got rid of Nehemiah, and that hasn’t brought people into camp. Maybe they think this will. That could be part of their strategy.”
Walsh claimed: “It didn’t take much to total the whole thing. The attitude Dwight took in agreeing was that he would not concede he had any form of drug problem. The only reason he would go through rehabilitaton was to satisfy our concern – to get the issue out of the way so we’d stop harping on it.”
In October 1986, with Hicks unsigned, the Chronicle’s Lowell Cohn wrote:
“DID IT ever cross Hicks’ mind that the 49ers blacklisted him around the league?”
“What else can I think,” Hicks says. “DBs are going down left and right (but) I can’t get a job.”
Hicks acknowledged some recreational use of cocaine starting in 1981 and continuing to June 1986. Later in that same article, Cohn reported:
He failed his physical before the 1985 season when traces of cocaine showed up in his urine. “I hardly knew that much about the stuff,” he said. “If I did, I’d be a fool to make myself unclean when I was taking a physical.” The 49ers were very cordial about it, he explained. They asked him to talk to a counselor, which he did. “I did not think (my drug use) was a concern of theirs.”
Cohn also reported that “as a condition of signing his contract, the 49ers demanded Hicks take a drug test and agree to rehabilitation. He said he didn’t need rehabilitation, but he told the 49ers he would submit to it to pacify them. Three hours later, the team called back and said he had been released. He was shocked.”
Hicks said: “They must have used the drug testing as a negotiating ploy. I mean, if they want to commit me to a rehabilitation place, show some concern. I agree and they release me in three hours. If I really was an addict, they really showed a lot of concern, wouldn’t you say?”
In any case, he wound up signing with the Colts soon after, played for them in the rest of 1986, then left the NFL. Now, here is Hicks’ own statement on why he left the 49ers:
“I was promised a new contract by Bill Walsh after the 49ers won the Superbowl in 1981, on the condition that I made the Pro Bowl in 1982. Well, I made the Pro Bowl in 1982 and Bill Walsh did not honor his agreement with me. My agent then started communication with the team on my behalf about this agreement. There had been dialogue on many occasions during the off season and during the summer camp prior to the 1983 season, asking Bill Walsh to honor his agreement which he did not.
“The 1983 season commenced and there was more communication about the agreement between Bill Walsh and I with no resolve. So, in week seven I decided I would sit out a week of practice prior to the first game with the Rams. Ray Rhodes was sent to my house everyday, by Bill Walsh, to convince me to come to practice but there was no resolve regarding our agreement. Well, I didn’t go back to practice and I did not travel to Los Angeles to play the game that week. Did you know that our secondary only allowed about three touchdowns passes in our first six games in 1983? The next game I sat out. Vince Ferragamo threw five touchdowns and close to if not more than 400yds passing. I proved that I was missed but it was costly, and that was the beginning of the end of my pro football career.
“You see, no one in the history of the NFL had sat out of a game to protest a contract dispute after the season had started and the NFL was going to make sure that no one else did. The drug use was just a label put on me and to ease me out of the NFL. As far as the money that the newspaper said the 49ers offered me, I never heard of such an offer.”
Hicks adds another note: “I have come to accept the way I left the NFL and yes, I have forgiven the 49ers organization and Bill Walsh. However, my perception on why I was released has not changed.”