To many, the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the NFL prohibiting them from suspending Viking DTs Kevin and Pat Williams for the first 4 games of the 2009 season might look like no big deal. Those people would be totally wrong. It is a huge deal involving several issues including the ability of the NFL and other professional leagues to suspend players for taking unauthorized drugs.
The drug involved in the Williams’ case is basically water pills. The NFL has put the drug on the baned list for two reasons. First, some claim the drug is useful as a masking agent for steroids and other performance enhancing substances.
The second reason that this and similar drugs are on the baned list is the safety of the player taking it. Don’t forget it was a Viking OT Korey Stringer in 2001 that died from heat stroke after reportedly taking water pills for weight loss. The Williams’ both claim that they were taking the drug for exactly the same reason and did not know that what they had taken contained ingredients that were illegal.
Another major issue for the NFL is that the Minnesota State court system has gotten involved in the issue. It was a state judge that issued the original TRO. The NFL has always claimed that it is not subject to state courts because it is a single national organization with local franchises. The claim filed by the NFL with the Minnesota court that they were not subject to state jurisdiction was rejected.
If this issue rings a bell, it is because the federal court law suit by Needle against the NFL involves the issue of the league’s ability to sign an exclusive apparel deal with a single vendor.
Several reports indicate that the NFL has tried to negotiate a lessor suspension like 2 games in exchange for the Williams’ dropping their law suit. Neither player has budged saying that they did nothing wrong and would not accept any suspension. That offer by the NFL is an indication that they realize that their entire drug program could hang in the balance with this law suit.
The programs of all other professional leagues will also be subject to challenge should the NFL fail to win the day. All professional league programs are built on competitive balance, player safety and union/league agreement. Those programs will be at risk should the NFL’s long standing program be judged illegal even in part. The challenge is not only that the league’s right to suspend players for taking certain drugs but that the league does not have the authority to determine which drugs should and should not be on the list.
Look for the league to lose the case and appeal it to the federal court of appeals. Then the challenge will be whether or not the federal court will hear the case. If they refuse leaving a state court finding against the league without taking the case, the NFL can expect to spend a lot of time in state courts all over the league on various issues.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .