Not Giving Up The Fight

By Brian Murphy
Updated: September 16, 2009

Pat (left) and Kevin Williams

Pat (left) and Kevin Williams

MINNESOTA — The NFL still is determined to suspend Vikings defensive linemen Kevin and Pat Williams — even after a federal appeals court cleared the way for them to play the 2009 season.

A lawyer for the Williamses confirmed Tuesday night that the league is appealing Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson’s temporary restraining order allowing the Pro Bowl tackles to play while their lawsuit against the NFL is pending.

No hearing has been scheduled, although the move affirms NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s vow to continue fighting for his authority to discipline players under the collectively bargained Policy for Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday the Williamses can sue the league in Hennepin County for allegedly violating Minnesota drug-testing laws by suspending them four games for testing positive for a banned substance.

On July 9, Larson issued a restraining order blocking the NFL from suspending the Williamses until federal appeals had been resolved.

Goodell said last week the NFL might appeal the 8th Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court or ask Congress to intervene.

Meantime, the league is preparing to fight the Williamses on their home turf, and its first play is trying to strip the Vikings stars of their court protection.

Larson already determined more harm would befall the Williamses if they were suspended and lost four games’ pay than the NFL faces being unable to punish the players before the case is resolved.

“Entering a TRO (temporary restraining order) pending adjudication on the merits will allow the court to ensure the legislative will and public policy is served as best as possible,” Larson wrote July 9.

That means the NFL would have to prove it now faces an unequal burden.

With the Williamses playing, for now, under court order in Minnesota, Goodell said Tuesday the league would not enforce four-game suspensions against two New Orleans players who tested positive in 2008 for the same banned substance.

Goodell’s decision clears Saints defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith to play in 2009, although the commissioner did not rule out future discipline in the so-called StarCaps case.

“This situation presents several unique and narrow aspects that I believe call for us to put the good of the game ahead of questions of discipline,” Goodell said in a statement.

“Considerations of fairness, uniform application of our policies, and competitive integrity all support deferring the suspensions at this time. I am not prepared to treat players differently when the same conduct is involved.”

The Court of Appeals ruling allowing the Williamses to proceed in state court exposed Saints players to suspension because the three-judge panel threw out Smith and Grant’s claims that the NFL violated public policy by failing to notify them StarCaps, the weight-loss supplement each player was taking, was contaminated with a banned substance.

Minnesota labor laws do not protect the Saints players.

“Our primary goal is to maintain the effectiveness and integrity of our program, which has repeatedly been recognized as among the finest in all of sports,” Goodell said.

“An important part of that program has been a tradition of fairness for players and clubs, with all players knowing they are held to a common standard.”

Goodell last week repeated his criticism of the NFLPA for challenging the collectively bargained drug-testing policy in federal court.

“Now that the courts have rejected the NFLPA’s improper challenge to our collectively bargained program, we hope the union will join us in ensuring that these principles of fairness and uniformity are preserved.

“The union’s unfortunate refusal to do so thus far has created needless uncertainty for our program. This is an important issue not only for the NFL, but for all sports and everyone who cares about the integrity of sports competition. This is why the other professional leagues and the (United States Anti-Doping Agency) supported us in this case.”

The NFLPA responded with a statement late Tuesday:

“We respect the commissioner’s decision to be in the best interest of the game and our players, but we will never be silent when our players believe that they were mistreated by a system that operated unfairly.”