Vikings defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams have been suspended four games without pay for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances, the NFL announced late Tuesday afternoon.
The Williamses were among seven players that were appealing suspensions, and six of them have been suspended. In addition to the two Pro Bowl tackles from the Vikings, the league suspended Saints DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith, Saints RB Deuce McAllister and Houston long snapper Bryan Pittman. Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jackson was not yet suspended.
"In response to this afternoon's ruling, the Minnesota Vikings are very disappointed in the National Football League's decision and suspension of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams," the Vikings said in a release. "At the appropriate time, we will have further comment."
The Williamses are believed to have taken the dietary "water pill" called StarCaps, which didn't list Bumetanide as an ingredient on its label and has since been found to contain the substance. Bumetanide is on the NFL's list of banned substances because it is also believed to be a masking agent for steroids. The report of the Vikings' defensive tackles receiving four-game suspensions was first reported by Fox Sports on Oct. 26.
"You and you alone are responsible for what goes into your body," the league's policy states. "Claiming that you used only legally available nutritional supplements will not help you in an appeal. … Even if they are bought over-the-counter from a known establishment, there is currently no way to be sure that they contain the ingredients listed on the packaging or have not been tainted with prohibited substances. … If you take these products, you do so AT YOUR OWN RISK! For your own health and success in the league, we strongly encourage you to avoid the use of supplements altogether, or at the very least to be extremely careful about what you choose to take."
The suspensions will run for the final four games of the season, and the players would be available for the playoffs if their teams make it.
The appeals process included close to 30 hours of hearings, according to the NFL. The Vikings' players made separate appearances before league officials on Nov. 20 in New York. NFL Executive Vice President of Labor and League Counsel Jeff Pash heard and decided on the Vikings' appeals.
A key argument in the appeals was that the NFL didn't warn players about StarCaps even though it knew about the presence of Bumetanide, the masking agent, in the pill. In a release from the NFL, it said players were warned about dietary supplements.
"NFL players received separate advisories regarding supplements. These included two memos from Dr. John Lombardo (the program's independent administrator) entitled ‘Weight Reduction Products,' which were sent to players in July of 2007, and again in July of 2008,'" the NFL release said.
The contents of those two letters are identical and read:
"Weight reduction products predominately contain stimulants for increasing metabolism and suppressing appetite and/or diuretics or water pills for water weight loss. There is a list of stimulants and diuretics banned by the NFL in the Policy for Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances. However, remember that the contents of supplements may not match what is listed on the label of the bottle.
"If you test positive for a banned stimulant or diuretic or water pill, this constitutes a positive test.
"I urge you not to take products to [sic] that claim to ‘burn fat,' ‘lower weight' or other similar clams.
"Remember that as NFL players you are responsible for whatever is in your body."
The notice also included an invitation for players to contact Lombardo with e-mail and voice mail information included.
While that notice did not contain information specifically on StarCaps, Pash's decision included a statement that notices were sent to "the presidents, general managers, and head athletic trainers of all NFL clubs" and NFL Players Association executive Stacy Robinson, who oversees the Steroid Policy on behalf of the union.
"The letter to Robinson states that ‘Balanced Health Products, which distributes Star Caps, has been added to the list of prohibited dietary supplement companies. Please distribute this information to the agents and players through your normal channels,'" the NFL wrote in its release. "In response, Robinson had Balanced Health Products added to the list of banned companies that is maintained on the NFLPA's website."
Despite that communication with team executives and the NFLPA, Pash's decision pointed out that "the policy does not set forth an obligation to issue specific warnings about specific products and no testimony suggests that the NFL and NFLPA have ever contemplated imposing such a requirement on Dr. Lombardo, who oversees the development of education materials on steroids. In keeping with that responsibility, the NFL, NFLPA, and Dr. Lombardo have emphasized the need for extreme caution in the use of any supplement, including weight reduction products, have established a Hotline for players to call for information regarding supplements, have established a Supplement Certification program with EAS to provide players with supplements that are free of banned substances, and have, in conjunction with reinforcing the strict liability rule, repeatedly warned players about the dangers of unregulated and inaccurately labeled dietary supplements. In the past, players have been suspended for using dietary supplements that contained a banned substance."
Also in Pash's decision, he wrote that "diuretics are banned for two reasons – first, because they can be used to mask the use of performance-enhancing drugs; and second, because they can pose a threat to player health and safety."
If any further legal action taken by the players isn't ruled upon in their favor – whether with the league or in a government venue – the suspensions would cost each of the players four-seventeenths of their base salary for 2008 and cut into their ability to make incentives with playing time or statistical markers. In Pat Williams' case, he would forfeit $941,176 of his $4 million base salary. Kevin Williams would lose $235,294 of his $1 million base salary.
Saints offensive guard Jamar Nesbit already accepted a four-game suspension to start the season, but he sued the makers of StarCaps for $235,294 in lost salary.
Since then, the makers of StarCaps have suspended sales and Jackson has filed suit against the company, seeking restitution for any lost salary and damages for "false advertising and unfair business practices," according to the Associated Press. If he isn't suspended in the future, the suit would likely be dropped.
Fox Sports reported that the NFL is seeking more information in Jackson's case.
Pat and Kevin Williams among suspended
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