StarCaps analysis: Can state override CBA?

At the crux of the StarCaps case for Pat and Kevin Williams is this key point: Can state employment laws override the collective bargaining agreement? Two professors with knowledge of past cases weighed in.

The fate of defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams won't be decided for at least a few more weeks. The two Pro Bowl Vikings were suspended four games last year for testing positive for the banned substance bumetanide, but they received an injunction on those suspensions that is still being upheld, for now.

The NFL won't try to immediately enforce its four-game suspension of the Williams Wall for their ingestion of bumetanide, according to an Associated Press report based on a hearing Tuesday in Minnesota state court, but they could still be suspended to start the 2009 season.

Lawyers for the NFL and the players were instructed by Hennepin County District judge Gary Larson to file briefs by June 22 addressing the temporary restraining order, which will further delay the outcome of the case that first became public during the 2008 season.

But since two parts of the Williamses' cases were remanded to state court, it has raised the issue of their chances to successfully and permanently overturn their four-game suspensions. The biggest obstacle may come in deciding if state law can take precedence over a collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated between the NFL Players Association and the league. The CBA says players are solely responsible for what is found in their bodies.

According to what two sources with knowledge of the legal process told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Williamses may face an uphill battle to get state law to take precedence.

"There is a very serious issue and that is whether these Minnesota statutes can be applied here," Gary Roberts, dean and professor of law at Indiana University-Purdue University, told the newspaper. "There are several cases over the years where federal courts have held that when it comes to sports leagues, rules have to be applied league-wide in order for there to be competitive balance and fairness.

"In other words, you can't apply one set of drug-testing rules to the Vikings and another set of drug-testing rules to the Saints. That would be in violation of the dormant commerce clause in the Constitution, which basically says states can't regulate interstate commerce. If we apply the Minnesota statutes to the NFL's drug-testing policy, in effect – what we're doing – we're imposing Minnesota law on all 32 NFL teams, and that's what the constitution says the state of Minnesota can't do."

Matt Mitten, a professor and director of the national sports law institute at Marquette, agreed with Roberts' assessment in the story.

"If the players' union and the league has agreed, 'OK, here is the drug-testing protocol, here are the rules and the sanctions, here are how disputes are going to be resolved,' then there shouldn't be one set of rules under state law for players in Minnesota, Louisiana, California, Ohio, etc. I suspect that the Minnesota state law doesn't apply here. That would be consistent with how courts have ruled in the past," Mitten said.

Those two assessments spell a dire outlook for the Williamses' hopes to have their four-game suspensions overturned. They could find out their fate by the end of the month if Larson rules on the briefs that should be filed by June 22.

The other parts of the case that were being argued in federal court were thrown out by U.S. District Court judge Paul Magnuson last month. The NFL Players Association plans to appeal the dismissal of those pieces of the case, while the NFL plans to appeal the parts that were remanded to state court.

NOTES

  • Vikings guard Anthony Herrera, who didn't participate in much of this past weekend's minicamp while he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, said he should be ready to practice by training camp.

  • Former Viking Bob Lurtsema said that former Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon is expected to help the current quarterbacks at Thursday's organized team activity at Winter Park. Gannon also will talk to the team about longevity in the NFL, according to Lurtsema. Gannon played 17 years in the NFL for the Vikings, Redskins, Chiefs and Raiders.

  • Thursday's OTA session will be open to the media. We will update any breaking news from practice at the Viking Update Twitter page, http://twitter.com/VikingUpdate.


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