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Wednesday, October 14, 2009
NFL seeks new hearing in appeal

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL on Wednesday asked a full federal appeals court to hear the case involving two Minnesota Vikings players who violated the league's anti-doping policy, saying the issue has to be settled to avoid different standards for players in different states.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals essentially allowed Kevin Williams and Pat Williams to continue playing while the case proceeds in state court.

The panel's ruling, however, left two New Orleans Saints players who violated the same policy subject to suspension. The NFL has allowed Saints defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith to play, but contends a uniform policy is needed across the nation.

"The panel's decision makes the problem stark," the NFL attorneys wrote in the petition filed Wednesday.

The Williamses, who are not related, are not accused of taking steroids. They tested positive in 2008 for the diuretic bumetanide, which is banned by the NFL because it can mask the presence of steroids. The players acknowledged taking the over-the-counter weight loss supplement StarCaps, which did not state on the label that it contained bumetanide.

The NFL attempted to suspend the players four games each for violating the league's anti-doping policy. But the Williamses sued the NFL in state court, arguing the NFL's testing violated Minnesota workplace laws.

The case was moved to federal court, and the NFL Players Association filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of the Williamses and the Saints players, including Deuce McAllister, the Saints' career rushing leader who was released after last season.

The NFL says federal labor law should pre-empt state law and uniform standards are necessary for players nationwide.

"For a multi-employer bargaining unit like the NFL, with members in many states, a single nationwide collective bargaining agreement establishing the terms and conditions of player employment is indispensable," the attorneys wrote.

"That need for commonality and uniformity is greatest when, as here, the NFL seeks to regulate the terms on which players can play in order to ensure safe, fair, and even-handed competition," they wrote.

In May, a federal judge dismissed the NFLPA's lawsuit and several claims in the Williamses' case, then sent two claims involving Minnesota workplace laws back to state court. A judge there had issued an injunction prohibiting the NFL from suspending the players, and has scheduled the trial in their lawsuit for March 8.

The appeals court panel last month agreed with those decisions.

Peter Ginsberg, an attorney for the Williamses, said his clients are eager to go forward with the Minnesota trial and have a state jury evaluate their claims for damages.

"We don't expect the NFL's procedural efforts to delay resolution to be successful, and we look forward to moving ahead," Ginsberg said.

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said it plans to conduct a hearing on the case. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said he was concerned that the legal issues raised in the case "could result in weaker performance-enhancing drugs policies for professional sports."