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Friday, September 11, 2009
Minnesota courts buy Williams Wall more time



Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Barring a significant legal twist, it’s highly likely the Williams Wall will stand throughout the 2009 season. And Kevin Williams and Pat Williams can thank the laws and courts in their home state for it.

That’s the upshot of Friday morning’s ruling from the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The court upheld a previous ruling that the Minnesota defensive tackles can pursue their lawsuit against the NFL in state court, rejecting the league’s argument that it should be in federal court.
David Sherman/Getty Images
Pat and Kevin Williams might have already been suspended if not for Minnesota's labor laws.

The players are fighting a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy regarding steroids and related substances. They had most of their claims thrown out in federal court, but their current allegation is that the league’s testing policy violates Minnesota state labor law. That case will now proceed, but the trial won’t be scheduled until sometime after the season -- as required by a ruling earlier this summer from Hennepin County (Minn.) Judge Gary Larson.

The bottom line is that both players might have already been suspended if they didn’t play in Minnesota, which has some of the most stringent labor laws in the country. That’s one of the biggest implications of Friday’s ruling. There is now a potential imbalance in discipline the league can hand out if its policy is subject to the differing laws of the individual states.

Would Kevin Williams and Pat Williams have a case if they played in Chicago, Green Bay or Detroit? That’s not immediately clear. But here is something to consider: New Orleans defensive linemen Charles Grant and Will Smith are expected to be suspended next week for what is reported to be the same offense -- ingesting bumetanide, a diuretic that can also be used as a masking agent.

Even if Kevin Williams and Pat Williams ultimately lose the case, this ruling has bought them another full year of playing time, salary and pension benefits. September 2010 is the earliest they could be punished for a transgression that occurred during the summer of 2008.

Those larger issues are for another day. For the purposes of now, the story is that both players are likely to remain eligible for the entire season. I don’t have to tell you how critical they are to the Vikings’ interior run defense, and what a drop-off it would have been to lose them for the same four games.

The only potential obstacle to this timetable is if the NFL appeals this case to the United States Supreme Court. We don’t yet have an indication if that will occur. Stay tuned.