Friday, December 5, 2008
NFL's drug suspensions of 5 blocked by federal judge
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A federal judge on Friday blocked the NFL from suspending five players for violating the league's anti-doping policy.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said he needed more time to consider the case after hearing several hours of arguments from the league and the NFL Players Association.
Kevin Williams and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings and Charles Grant, Deuce McAllister and Will Smith of the New Orleans Saints were suspended this week for four games each. They tested positive for a banned diuretic in the dietary supplement StarCaps.
The union argued the NFL didn't properly inform players about the substance. The NFL's attorneys argued that that claim, and others, had been considered and rejected in a process set out by the league's collective bargaining agreement.
"Judge Magnuson made clear this afternoon that he needed more time to fully and carefully consider all of the briefs, arguments, and cases put before him," the NFL said in a statement. "We welcome that scrutiny. We are confident that, once he has had an opportunity to review all of the relevant materials, including the collective bargaining agreement, he will uphold our long-standing agreements with the NFLPA that protect the health and safety of NFL players and the integrity of our game."
Jeff Kessler, an attorney for the union, said he was delighted. He said the ruling showed that the NFL isn't above the law.
"In this particular case, they did not follow the rule of law," Kessler said.
The news came after the Vikings held their media availability Friday. The Associated Press placed a request for comment with team spokesman Bob Hagan.
Magnuson's move came two days after a Hennepin County judge issued a restraining order blocking the Williamses' suspension. The NFL got the case moved to federal court, where the NFL Players Association joined in a broader action that included the Saints players.
The five players were suspended for four games for testing positive in training camp in July and August for the banned diuretic Bumetanide, which can be used as a masking agent for steroids. The drug was in the dietary supplement StarCaps even though the label did not list the diuretic as an ingredient.
The key issue is whether the NFL had any specific obligation to notify players and the union that it had known since at least 2006 that the weight loss supplement contained the banned diuretic. The NFL says the burden is on players to know what's going into their bodies.
Kessler argued Friday that the NFL did not properly inform the players about a "potentially killing substance." The union had claimed that Dr. John Lombardo, who oversees the NFL's steroids policy, withheld critical information on StarCaps containing the banned diuretic.
Nash argued that Lombardo had made a professional decision to warn players in general about diuretics rather than specifically about StarCaps.
Kessler also argued there was no reason the suspensions couldn't be delayed further. He pointed out that the tests were conducted during training camp in the summer, and months passed before this week's suspensions.
"All we are trying to get is a little more time," Kessler said. "There is no damage to them. There is tremendous damage to the players," who have short careers and could be robbed of a chance to make the playoffs.
Nash argued that delaying the suspensions would damage the collective bargaining agreement. And he disputed the idea the league was responsible for the timing of the suspensions.
"We have been accommodating the players and their lawyers all season," he said.
Kevin and Pat Williams, who aren't related, are star defensive tackles for a Vikings team that is 7-5 and in first place in the NFC North. The Williamses participated in practice on Friday. They both declined to comment on the situation during media availability after practice, before the ruling was announced.
The Vikings play Detroit on Sunday.
The Saints (6-6) are last in the NFC South, two games out of the wild-card spot with four games to play.