MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal appeals court allowed other major sports to weigh in Wednesday on the NFL's attempts to suspend two Minnesota Vikings for violating the league's anti-doping policy.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals accepted a joint brief from Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL, as well as a similar brief from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which administers drug testing for U.S. Olympic teams.
The teams and independent agency asked the appeals court to rule that the NFL's collective bargaining agreement trumps the state laws that defensive linemen Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are using to fight their four-game suspensions. They wrote it would be impossible otherwise to enforce uniform standards for eliminating performance-enhancing drugs from sports.
The NFL seeks to discipline the two players because they tested positive last summer for the diuretic bumetanide, which is banned from sports because it can mask the presence of steroids. It was an unlisted ingredient in the weight-loss supplement StarCaps, which they acknowledge taking. Court proceedings in the complex web of cases involving StarCaps have established that the NFL knew the supplement contained the banned substance but never shared that information with players.
The Williamses, who are not related, are not accused of using steroids, but the NFL says players are responsible for knowing what they're taking.
The league wants to impose the suspensions at the start of the regular season, and the 8th Circuit on Wednesday scheduled oral arguments for 9 a.m. Aug. 18 in St. Paul to put itself in a position to rule by then.
A federal judge in May dismissed several parts of the Williamses' lawsuit and a related case filed by the NFL Players Association, but sent two issues back to state court because they involve the Williamses' claims their suspensions would violate Minnesota employment laws. The Williamses and the union are appealing other sections of that ruling.
The baseball, basketball and hockey leagues and the anti-doping agency backed the NFL's contention that Judge Paul Magnuson should have dismissed those claims, too.
They argued if the NFL's collective bargaining agreement doesn't take precedence over the two state laws at issue, sports would be subject to a patchwork of different state laws and regulations. And they raised the possibility the Minnesota Twins, Wild, Timberwolves and Vikings might be allowed to use substances that teams in other states could not, giving them an unfair advantage.
"In order for professional sports leagues' drug testing programs to be effective, they must apply equally to all players in the league, regardless of their or their team's home state. Without uniform requirements and procedures, the sports leagues would be unable to properly maintain competitive balance or any semblance of integrity, and instead would be held hostage to the individual rules of each state legislature," the leagues wrote in their friend-of-the-court brief.