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Judge issues temporary restraining order, blocking suspensions

MINNEAPOLIS -- A Minnesota judge temporarily blocked the NFL's suspension of Vikings stars Kevin and Pat Williams for violating the league's anti-doping policy, but the players' status for Sunday's game at Detroit remained uncertain.

Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson issued the temporary restraining order Wednesday at the players' request, saying he wanted more time to hear arguments in the case.

The Williamses were among six players suspended for four games for testing positive for a diuretic that can be used as a masking agent for steroids. They have argued that the substance containing the diuretic didn't list all its ingredients, and that league scientists and lawyers had information about the substance but withheld it from players.

The NFL issued a statement Wednesday stating the lawsuit held no merit and the league will seek to have the order reversed.

"The NFL Policy on Steroids and Related Substances is a collectively bargained program between the league and the NFL Players Association," said league spokesman Greg Aiello. "The program and the Collective Bargaining Agreement expressly bar precisely this kind of lawsuit. All of the steroid program's rules and procedures are established in agreement with the players' union. In other words, the players have agreed to the rules and the procedures that they are now challenging."

The NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Thursday. The person asked not to be identified because the lawsuit had not yet been filed.

The lawsuit is to be filed before U.S. District judge David Doty, who has had jurisdiction over NFL labor matters since the 1992 lawsuit that finally settled the 1987 strike by the union.

The hearing is scheduled for Friday in an effort to clear the players for this weekend's games.

The suit seeks to overturn all suspensions issued Tuesday by the league for any player who took the substance. The basis for the union's action is founded on many of the same arguments that resulted in the temporary restraining order issued in the state district court.

The NFL argues that the league's policy on banned substances is collectively bargained with the players' association and players are responsible for what is in their bodies.

"This is one of the more difficult cases I've had in 23 years," Larson said before signing the order. "If I make a mistake, I've got to decide on a temporary basis which side I'm able to make the mistake on."

Larson said he would make himself available to reconsider the issue "as quickly as you'd like me to hear it." He also said he expected lawyers for the NFL, who participated in the hearing by phone, would take the issue to federal court in Minneapolis to get the suspensions reinstated.

"There is no merit to this lawsuit and we will promptly seek to have the order reversed," the NFL said in a statement.

Both Kevin and Pat Williams, who are not related, sat in the courtroom with their lawyers for Wednesday's hearing, which lasted more than two hours. Both declined comment afterward.

Their attorney, Peter Ginsberg, didn't claim victory, instead saying, "It's a long hard road. It's going to take a long time for them to reclaim their reputations."

A message left by The Associated Press seeking reaction from the Vikings was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Dan Nash, an attorney for the NFL, told Larson before he issued the order that granting it would be unprecedented and create a sideshow, disrupting the Vikings team and sending a message to other suspended players that they could file similar lawsuits.

"This program (governing banned substances) would be thrown into disarray," Nash said.

But Ginsberg said his clients' case is unique and they should be given the benefit of the doubt and continue playing until the issues are fully addressed in court.

The Vikings are 7-5 and in first place in the NFC North, with the Williamses a big part of their success.

The two Pro Bowl tackles are the foundation of one of the league's top run defenses and leaders of a unit that has played a big role in the Vikings ascending to sole possession of first place in the division for the first time in four years.

"They're the first two guys here every morning at 7 o'clock working out," said Ellis Wyms, the backup to Kevin Williams. "You see the dedication that those two guys have to this team and this game.

"It's not that way around the league with a lot of guys. A lot of guys in their position would be able to take days off and chill out. Those guys have unbelievable dedication in what they do."

The ruling gives the Vikings a newfound hope that they may have the Williams Wall intact, at least for the immediate future, while they try to sew up the division title.

"They'll get back and get their playbooks and start focusing on Detroit," Ginsberg said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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