MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal judge extended his preliminary injunction against the NFL's suspension of five players for violating the league's anti-doping policy, a move their lawyer said will let them play the rest of the season.
In his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson asked both parties to propose a schedule by Dec. 22 for further proceedings that would lead to an eventual hearing on the merits of the case, a process that could take months. The regular season ends Dec. 28.
Kevin Williams and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings and Charles Grant, Deuce McAllister and Will Smith of the New Orleans Saints were suspended last week for four games each. They tested positive during training camp for a banned diuretic, bumetanide, in the dietary supplement StarCaps.
Bumetanide can be used as a masking agent for steroids. Diuretics are also used to quickly shed weight. The StarCaps label didn't list the diuretic as an ingredient.
"The players and the union are thrilled," Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney for the NFL Players Association, told The Associated Press. Kessler said the judge's timeframe is long enough that the players can finish the season and go to the playoffs if their teams make it that far.
Kevin and Pat Williams, who aren't related, are star defensive tackles for a Vikings team that is 8-5 and in first place in the NFC North. They play Sunday at Arizona.
"My attorney gave me a little bit of it, but I was focused on the game. I really wasn't focused on that," Smith said Thursday night after the Saints lost in overtime to Chicago, 27-24. "So I got to sit back either tonight or tomorrow and talk to him and see what happens."
Smith said he wasn't even aware, until told by a reporter, that Magnuson had extended the injunction.
"I guess that's a good thing, so see what happens, you know," he said.
"Since there has to be discovery and other proceedings, it's unlikely we would agree on a schedule for a trial until sometime after the Super Bowl," Kessler said.
Magnuson issued his initial injunction Dec. 5 after hearing arguments from the league and the NFLPA. That move came two days after a Minnesota state court judge had issued a restraining order in a lawsuit brought by the Vikings players.
The union argued the NFL didn't properly inform players about what it knew about StarCaps. The NFL's attorneys argued that claim, and others, had been considered and rejected in a process set out by the league's collective bargaining agreement.
Magnuson urged both sides to negotiate a solution. If they can't, he will preserve the status quo until there is a full evidentiary hearing on the case. The two sides have until Dec. 22 to negotiate a proposed schedule for filing papers ahead of that hearing, otherwise the judge will schedule it himself. Magnuson did not set a hearing date.
The judge said the players union had shown it will likely succeed on its claims that the NFL breached its duty to the players by failing to share what it knew about StarCaps. Another issue is whether Jeffrey Pash, the NFL's chief legal officer who upheld the five players' suspensions, was too partial to be an arbitrator.
"We are extraordinarily pleased for Kevin and Pat as well as for the Vikings fans," Peter Ginsberg, an attorney for the Williamses, said in a statement. "We appreciate the court's decision to allow us to conduct a full and fair hearing to explore the full extent of the NFL's failure to live up to its obligations to the players."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement the league accepted the decision.
"This is consistent with the approach the judge has taken in giving careful consideration to these issues, which we fully respect," Aiello said.
Richard Berthelsen, acting executive director of the players union, said the decision shows that the league can't ignore the rights of players in issuing arbitration rulings, and that courts will intervene if it does.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press