Williamses' trial getting its day in court

After about a year and a half of legal wrangling, the StarCaps trial involving Pat and Kevin Williams will start its journey in state court Monday. The outcome could determine the viability of collectively bargained drug-testing laws in major sports.

It's been more than a year and a half since Pat Williams and Kevin Williams took a training camp urine test that came up positive for bumetanide – a banned substance under the NFL's anti-doping policy that was an ingredient in the weight loss supplement StarCaps. Today, the ongoing battle between the Williams Wall and the NFL will finally have its day in state court.

The NFL initially intended to suspend the Williamses for four games at the end of the 2008 season, but court injunctions delayed the matter. When it went to federal court in 2009, almost all of the claims made by the players, which included members of the New Orleans Saints, were thrown out. However, the federal judge remanded two critical items back to the state court, where attorneys for the Williamses claim the suspension was a violation of Minnesota drugs in the workplace laws.

The NFL is expected to use its vast resources to fight the case vigorously, since its anti-doping and drug policies hang in the balance. In a statement released Friday by league spokesman Greg Aiello, it was stated that the league can't tailor its policy on a state-by-state basis and maintain a competitive balance if laws differ from one state to another.

"Most of the claims in the state law case have already been dismissed," Aiello said in the statement. "But for an anti-doping policy on a national basis for leagues that have teams in many states, there must be uniform standards that cannot be cherry-picked state-by-state based on different state laws."

The problem with the case is that reasonable people can see both sides of the issue. The league and the NFL players union have told players that they are responsible for whatever they put in their bodies and that, even unwittingly, doing so could subject them to potentially testing positive – adding that many supplements are not governed by the Food and Drug Administration and aren't always honest and above board with the label listing the ingredients contained in their products. However, the Williams contend that not only did StarCaps not list bumetanide as an ingredient, but the NFL was aware that bumetanide was in StarCaps and did nothing to inform players or the NFLPA of that knowledge.

Both players have admitted they took the over-the-counter StarCaps product prior to training camp in 2008, but it was so they could meet targeted weight goals and earn $400,000 bonuses.

In the end, the final decision likely won't come down to who should be believed, because both sides make a convincing argument from their own divergent perspectives. The real question will be how state law applies to a multi-state business like the NFL. If the league wins, it will solidify the NFL's right to discipline its players. If the Williamses prevail, it not only could affect the drug policy in the NFL, but the other major sports as well – all of which not only have teams in more than a dozen states, but also Canada.

Opening arguments are expected to be heard today. No timetable has been set as to how long the case is expected to take or how long it will take for a decision to be rendered.


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