MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals has rejected the NFL's request to expedite its handling of the case of Minnesota Vikings Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, which means the defensive tackles may get to play the entire upcoming season.
The players are fighting a closely watched legal battle that so far has blocked the NFL from suspending them for four games apiece for testing positive for a banned diuretic in 2008.
The Williamses, who are not related, were in training camp when they took a weight loss supplement called StarCaps, which contained the diuretic bumetanide but did not list it on the label. The NFL bans bumetanide because it can mask the presence of steroids, though it never accused the two players of taking steroids.
In its order, obtained Thursday but dated Tuesday, the appeals court said the NFL has not demonstrated that the case should get higher priority than others. It said the case does not involve issues of statewide importance, and there's been no showing that either side will suffer financial hardship while the appeal is pending.
Under court rules, it could be mid- to late August before both sides have filed their briefs. Then it typically would take another six to eight months for the appeals court to hold oral arguments. The court then would have up to 90 days to issue its decision. All of that would push the ruling well into next year.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league may ask the appeals court to lift a trial judge's order blocking the suspensions.
"The court noted that the NFL has the option to seek review sooner by filing a motion to vacate the trial court's ruling blocking the suspensions," Aiello said in an e-mail. "We are studying the decision and will decide whether to pursue that option."
The Williamses attorney, Peter Ginsberg, expressed confidence that the players will prevail, saying the courts have consistently found that the NFL violated their rights.
"We are confident that, no matter how many appeals the NFL files and no matter how much litigation the NFL pursues, the results will not change," Ginsberg said in an e-mail.
The case already has taken a complicated journey through the Minnesota and federal courts. At issue for the appeals court will be whether Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson erred when he ruled against the Williamses in April.
Larson ruled that while the NFL broke state law when it failed to notify the players of their drug test results within the mandated three days, the NFL still could suspend them anyway because neither was harmed by the notification delay. He also stayed his ruling pending their appeal, and said they were likely to succeed.
The NFL, meanwhile, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court decision that went against the league on other legal issues in the case. The high court has not said yet whether it will hear that appeal. The NFL, backed by other major league sports, contends that its collective bargaining agreement with the players' union and the contract's drug testing language should trump state law.
The Williamses have already avoided suspension for a year and a half, dating to the initial announcement by the league in December 2008. They were spared by the courts for the end of the regular season and the playoffs that year, plus the 2009-10 season as the Vikings reached the NFC title game.
Pat Williams is in the final year of his contract, and he will turn 38 in October. It's possible he will retire before any suspension could begin.