A Minnesota judge ruled Friday that he will keep the suspensions of two Vikings players on hold if they follow through on their plan to file an appeal in their closely watched fight against the NFL's anti-drug policy.
An attorney for defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams said he planned to file that appeal later Friday in Hennepin County District Court.
"As a matter of fairness and as a matter of law, we are convinced the NFL cannot and will not be allowed to suspend Kevin and Pat," attorney Peter Ginsberg said.
Said the NFL in a statement: "Today's decision does not change the fact that every court has rejected the players' claims and upheld the operation of the policy. We are confident the state appellate court will do the same. The alleged 'public policy' and 'failure to warn' issues identified in today's decision were fully litigated and resolved in the league's favor by two federal courts last year. There is no basis in our view for now re-introducing those issues of federal law at this stage of the case."
The NFL first tried to suspend the Williamses, who aren't related, in 2008 after they tested positive for a banned diuretic that was in the StarCaps weight-loss supplement they were taking. The ingredient, bumetanide, can mask the presence of steroids. The Williamses weren't accused of taking steroids and said they didn't know the diuretic was in the supplement.
The players sued the NFL in state court, saying it violated state labor law. Their four-game suspensions have been on hold while the case has been playing out in state and federal courts. The Williamses were allowed to play, and they helped the Vikings reach the NFC title game in January.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Gary Larson ruled earlier this month that the NFL broke state law when it failed to notify the two players of their test results within the mandated three days. He said an NFL official played "a game of 'gotcha'" with the players, but he also ruled the NFL could suspend them because neither was harmed by the notification delay.
Larson ruled Friday that once the players file their appeal and each post $10,000 bond, the suspensions should be put on temporary hold because the pair "have amply demonstrated that they would suffer irreparable injury unless the stay is granted."
The judge also wrote that the players have a "likelihood of success on the merits" of their appeal, adding: "This court has no delusions of grandeur and has had on previous occasions been reversed by the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court."
Larson explained that he had no case law to guide him when he made his decision. He said he ruled the players weren't harmed by the NFL's actions, but that the league shouldn't be allowed to benefit from its misconduct. He said the NFL knew StarCaps contained the diuretic and withheld that information from players.
The NFL already has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a decision that allowed the Williamses to challenge their suspensions in the first place. The league says its collective bargaining agreement with the players' union protects its drug policy from lawsuits in state courts, and it wants the case settled on the federal level.
The NFL and other sports leagues contend that their drug-testing programs would be at risk if state-level challenges like the Williamses' were allowed to proceed. Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League all support of the NFL's position.
New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith and former teammate Charles Grant tested positive for the same substance, but they weren't involved in the Minnesota lawsuit. The NFL has held off on enforcing their four-game suspensions until the Minnesota case is resolved. Grant is a free agent after being released by the Saints.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.