MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota judge ruled Friday that he will keep the suspensions of two Minnesota Vikings on hold if they follow through on their plan to file an appeal in their closely watched fight against the NFL's anti-drug policy.
"As a matter of fairness and as a matter of law, we are convinced the NFL cannot and will not be allowed to suspend Kevin and Pat," attorney Peter Ginsberg said.
The NFL first tried to suspend the Williamses, who are not related, in 2008 after they tested positive for a banned diuretic that was in the StarCaps weight-loss supplement they were taking. The ingredient, bumetanide, can mask the presence of steroids. The Williamses were not accused of taking steroids and said they didn't know the diuretic was in the supplement.
The players sued the NFL in state court, saying it violated state labor law. Their four-game suspensions have been on hold while the case has been playing out in state and federal courts. The Williamses were allowed to play and they helped the Vikings reach the NFC title game in January.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Gary Larson ruled earlier this month that the NFL broke state law when it failed to notify the two players of their test results within the mandated three days. He said an NFL official played "a game of 'gotcha'" with them, but he also ruled the NFL could suspend the players because neither was harmed by the notification delay.
On Friday, Larson ruled that once the players file their appeal and each post $10,000 bond, the suspensions should be put on temporary hold because the pair "have amply demonstrated that they would suffer irreparable injury unless the stay is granted."
The judge also wrote that the players have a "likelihood of success on the merits" of their appeal, adding: "This court has no delusions of grandeur and has had on previous occasions been reversed by the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court."
Larson explained that he had no case law to guide him when he made his decision. He said he ruled the players weren't harmed by the NFL's actions, but that the NFL should not be allowed to benefit from its misconduct. He said the NFL knew StarCaps contained the diuretic and withheld that information from players.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail that Larson's decision doesn't change the fact that other courts have upheld the league's anti-drug policy.
"We are confident the state appellate court will do the same," he wrote, adding that the issues Larson raised about the NFL's failure to warn players were "fully litigated" and there is "no basis in our view for now reintroducing those issues of federal law at this stage of the case."
The NFL has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a decision that allowed the Williamses to challenge their suspensions in the first place. The NFL says its collective bargaining agreement with the players' union protects its drug policy from lawsuits in state courts, and it wants the case settled on the federal level.
The NFL and other sports leagues contend that their drug-testing programs would be at risk if state-level challenges like the Williamses were allowed to proceed. Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League all support of the NFL's position.
Saints defensive end Will Smith and former Saints end Charles Grant tested positive for the same substance, but were not involved in the Minnesota lawsuit. The NFL has held off on enforcing their four-game suspensions until the Minnesota case is resolved. Grant is a free agent after being released by the Saints.