MINNEAPOLIS -- A judge on Thursday blocked the NFL's plan to suspend Minnesota Vikings linemen Kevin Williams and Pat Williams for violating the league's anti-doping policy, a move their attorney said should let them start the season with camp beginning in just three weeks.
Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson granted the players' request for a temporary restraining order that keeps the NFL from suspending them until their case is decided. The order also prohibits the league from subjecting them to extra drug testing.
The Williamses "would suffer a significant loss of playing time" without the restraining order, the judge wrote, and they have shown "some likelihood" of winning their lawsuit.
Peter Ginsberg, an attorney for the two players, called the order a "major victory" and said that at a minimum it should allow them to play for the early part of the upcoming season. He said it also protects them from stepped-up drug testing that they consider to be retaliation for standing up to the NFL.
The NFL still wants to enforce the players' four-game suspensions at the start of the season. The first preseason game is Aug. 14 and the season-opener is Sept. 13 at Cleveland.
The judge also scheduled a July 22 hearing on whether he should put the state court proceedings on hold while a federal appeals court considers other issues in the case. The federal appeals process could take several months and could further delay any suspensions if Larson decides to wait.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the court order "effectively exempts" the Williamses from the league's collective bargaining agreement. He also said it has "no immediate practical impact" because they remain free to practice and to play in preseason games.
But the order "illustrates the critical importance of a uniform policy for all teams in the league and why this matter should be governed exclusively by federal law," Aiello said. He said the NFL believes its federal appeal, which argues that the players' state claims are barred by the union contract, should be resolved before the start of the season.
Ginsberg said he and the Williamses are ready to go to trial. He said it wouldn't be fair to anyone to have a trial that conflicts with the season.
The defensive tackles, who are not related, tested positive last summer for a banned diuretic that can mask the presence of steroids, though they've never been accused of taking steroids. They took the weight-loss supplement StarCaps, which contained a diuretic, bumetanide, that wasn't listed on the label.
The NFL has acknowledged it knew StarCaps contained the banned drug, and the players say the NFL wrongly failed to share that information.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson last month dismissed most of the Williamses' original lawsuit and a related case filed by the NFL Players Association, but sent the Williamses' case back to state court to resolve two remaining claims under Minnesota law. Those claims involve whether the NFL violated the players' rights under a state law that regulates drug and alcohol testing in the workplace, and under another state law that governs disciplining employees for consuming legal products off their employer's premises during non-working hours.
The Williamses, the players union and the NFL are all appealing various parts of that order. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has tentatively scheduled oral arguments for Aug. 18 in St. Paul.