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Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Parsing the Cornwell statement

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Wednesday's statement from attorney David Cornwell, who revealed the NFL has long been aware that the StarCaps weight-loss supplement contains a banned diuretic, could have repercussions in the NFC North.

Cornwell is handling the appeals of New Orleans Saints players Deuce McAllister, Charles Grant and Will Smith -- all of whom have been suspended for testing positive for the diuretic bumetanide. Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are facing a similar fate and are scheduled to have their appeals heard Thursday.

In its official steroid policy, the NFL offers to answer any questions players might have about a supplement. There is a telephone hotline as well as contact information for Dr. John Lombardo, the league's independent. administrator for the plan.

According to Cornwell's statement, Lombardo knew that StarCaps contained bumetanide but did not reveal it. Cornwell's implication is that Lombardo did not administrate the policy properly and thus eliminated the culpability of his clients.

If McAllister, Grant and Smith are exonerated as a result, it's possible that Kevin Williams and Pat Williams will be as well. Still, there are some unanswered questions that could mitigate Cornwell's argument. Namely:

1. Did any of those players specifically ask about StarCaps? The policy provides information to those who ask, but my understanding is that the NFL is not obligated to publicize a list of tainted supplements. The NFL does provide a list of supplements it has tested and approved. There is an important distinction here.

2. Would Lombardo's decision to withhold the information supersede the NFL's mandate that players are ultimately responsible for what they take? Remember, here is the wording from the NFL policy: "Players are responsible for what is in their bodies, and a positive test result will not be excused because a player was unaware that he was taking a Prohibited Substance."

If someone called Lombardo or the NFL hotline and got clearance to take StarCaps, then there is a legitimate problem here. But if the players are trying to smoke out Lombardo and the league for not independently informing them that StarCaps was tainted, they might not have a winning argument. Stay tuned.