Six events have put the entire drug policy of NFL and every other sports league’s policy in serious jeopardy.
Event 1—The state courts of Minnesota prohibiting Comm. Goodell from suspending Pat and Kevin Williams (DT, Vikings) for having tested positive for banned substances. When the league first announced the suspensions of several players including both all pro DTs of the Vikes, the Williams took the issue to the Minnesota state courts. The state courts found for the Williams.
Event 2—The NFL took the issue to the Federal court system. The League claimed that since it is a national organization, only the Federal system could decide the issue. A lower federal court used the state decision in part to decide in favor of the players. The league appealed and the Minnesota federal court of Appeals heard the case.
Event 3—The NFLPA joined the fray. When the case was moved to the federal courts, the Union filed suit on behalf of both the Vikings players and three Saints players that were also suspended by the league. The NBA, MLB and the NHL filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the NFL’s position.
Event 4—Last week, that court announced the verdict—no suspensions now or in the future for the failed tests. The decision to cancel the suspensions only affects the Williams because they were the ones that brought the initial suit. The suit by the NFLPA was dismissed. However, there was something more in their decision. The Federal Court sent part of the case back to the Minnesota state court for determination.
Event 5—NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said on ESPN Radio that one of the issues he was interested in negotiating in the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was a way to take the power of suspensions including those for failed drug tests out of the hands of the NFL Commissioner. He said that there should be an independent arbiter or panel that would decide on who would be suspended for how long.
Event 6—New Orleans plays Minnesota in week 2. This is important because 2 of the Saint’s D linemen were also suspended for failing the same test. Both DE Will Smith and Charles Grant had been suspended along with Deuce McAllister who has since been cut. However, the Commissioner reinstated both Smith and Grant earlier this week sighting the need for competitive balance as the reason.
So what does all this mean?
The League’s control of the drug policy is subject to both state and federal courts. The fact that the Federal court saw the state court as having jurisdiction is particularly troubling for the League. There are several suits against the league. The chances for success in these cases will depend upon the league being able to maintain its status as one from many. The right of the league for example to grant a license to EA Sports for the sole use of the names and likenesses of players for its video game depend on the courts seeing the league as one unit.
The NFLPA’s nosing into the issue is also a sign of trouble for a new CBA. The league is not going to give up the right to suspend players willingly. This could be the single issue that prevents an agreement in time to avoid a work stoppage.
The only good news for the NFL in the court’s decision was that the NFLPA’s suit was rejected. But it was rejected only because the union had agreed to the terms that the NFL had the power to suspend.
Look for the league to lose more suits due to the court’s decision. This decision sets a bad precedent because it breaks what had been a continuous run of the courts seeing the league as one unit. It also reestablishes the right of the courts over the CBA and league rules.
I see the reinstatement of the Saints as the league accepting this new reality. I cannot see a resolution to the CBA before the start of the 2010 season. That means 10 will be an uncapped year. The likelihood of the NFLPA agreeing to a new cap after an uncapped year is remote at best. The probability is also that the union will win some type of guarantee for contracts. It’s too early to tell exactly which deals or how much of contracts will become guaranteed. But these two changes will destroy the competitive balance of the league as we have known it. And those of us that love the game will remember the old CBA fondly.
This will be a major sticking point over which a strike/work stoppage could well result.
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 .