NFL wins a ruling in StarCaps case

The NFL might be able to suspend Pat and Kevin Williams after all. The Minnesota Court of Appeals struck a blow against the Williams' appeal Tuesday, but it might not be over yet.

The Williams Wall came tumbling down Tuesday with a ruling in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The current question is whether the ruling will be a knockdown or a knockout to their two-and-a-half year fight with the NFL.

In its ruling Tuesday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals declined to block the NFL's four-game suspensions of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, which dates back to the start of training camp in July 2008. Both tested positive for a banned substance (bumetanide) contained in the weight-loss supplement StarCaps. In the two-and-half years since, the matter has been embroiled in a legal debate between the league, it's testing policies and state drug-testing laws.

The failed tests in 2008 resulted in the NFL announcing that both of the Williamses would serve four-game suspensions, as well as members of the New Orleans Saints that also tested positive for bumetanide as a result of taking StarCaps, which didn't list the banned substance as one of its ingredients in its packaging.

What has followed is a two-and-a-half year odyssey that has seen both the NFL and the Williamses score legal victories. The initial federal case was a slam-dunk for the NFL, but one claim made by the Williamses attorneys (not by members of the Saints) was that the NFL's testing policy violated Minnesota Drug Testing In the Workplace legislation. Only that portion of the case remained unresolved, as the federal court remanded that question to the state court system. From that point on, the NFL has been forbidden from imposing the suspensions. The case had made its way through the court system, but the one consistent has been that the NFL has been unable to actually exert its force to make the Williamses miss games.

Tuesday's decision changed that. In its ruling, the court ruled stated that, because bumetanide doesn't fall under the state's workplace drug-testing procedures, the worker-notification requirements don't give the state courts the foundation for preventing punishment by the employer (the NFL).

The ruling of the three-judge panel didn't give the NFL a free pass in its ruling, pointing in strong legal terms that drug testing laws in Minnesota, especially if they deal with anabolic steroids, will need to subscribe to Minnesota law, saying in the opinion of Judge Francis Connolly, "Importantly, our holding is limited to specific facts of this case and should not be read to excuse the NFL from complying with (Minnesota workplace law) when applicable."

In other words, if the Williamses had tested positive for a drug covered under the workplace laws, the NFL would have been required to notify them within three days.

While a blow to the case for the Williams Wall, it is likely that the case will be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court – which will, in the short-term, likely create a stay of execution once again on the league-imposed suspension.

The wild card in the situation could be the collective bargaining agreement. If it expires March 3, there could be a legal loophole around punishment dealing with an expired work agreement.

This may have replaced the Brett Favre "will he-won't he" retirement question as the longest-running saga in the current lore of Vikings history. Stay tuned.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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