ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The NFL asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to let it finally suspend Minnesota Vikings Pat Williams and Kevin Williams for violating the league's policy against performance-enhancing drugs last year.
NFL attorney Daniel Nash asked a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow the league to enforce to its anti-doping policy. He said the policy is a product of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement with the players union, governed by federal labor law, and that it pre-empts the state laws the Williamses are trying to use to block their four-game suspensions.
Minnesota opens the season Sept. 13 at Cleveland.
Nash said the case has implications for other pro sports' ability to enforce their own rules against steroids and other drugs, noting that Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL filed a friend-of-the-court brief last month supporting the NFL's position.
Peter Ginsberg, an attorney for the Williamses, argued that health and safety protections afforded under state law can't be bargained away.
After hearing an hour of oral arguments, Judge Diana Murphy said the appeals court would rule in "due time" but did not specify when, leaving it up in the air whether the NFL stands a chance of imposing the suspensions next month.
Any further appeals could delay the case and a Hennepin County judge's injunction against the suspensions remains in place pending a trial that -- if it happens -- likely wouldn't be held until after the season and the federal appeals run their course.
The Williamses, who are not related, tested positive for a banned diuretic during training camp in 2008. They had taken the over-the-counter weight loss supplement StarCaps, which did not state on the label that its ingredients included bumetanide, a prescription diuretic prohibited by the NFL because it can mask the presence of steroids.
The Williamses were never accused of taking steroids, but an arbitrator ruled that they had violated the league policy, which holds players responsible for knowing what they're taking.
The legal fight has taken several twists and turns. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson last May dismissed several claims in a lawsuit filed by the Williamses themselves, and all the claims in a similar suit filed by the NFL Players Association on behalf of the Williamses and three New Orleans Saints who were also ordered suspended after taking StarCaps.
But Magnuson sent two claims in the Williamses' lawsuit that involve Minnesota workplace laws back to state court for further proceedings. The league, the union and the Williamses all appealed parts of that decision.
Clifford Greene, an attorney for the NFL Players Association, argued that all five suspensions should be blocked because the NFL knew StarCaps contained the banned drug but chose not to share that information with players or the union, putting the players' lives at risk.
The appeals court's decision will also affect the fates of current Saints Charles Grant and Will Smith, as well as Deuce McAllister, the Saints' career rushing leader who was released after last season. The three are not part of the Williamses' lawsuit in state court.
After sitting through the hearing, Pat Williams said he thought their chances were 50-50.
"Like everything else it's up to the system. ... I'm prepared for the worst, I'm prepared for the good," he said.
Kevin Williams also sounded philosophical outside the courthouse, saying he isn't spending as much time worrying about the about the prospect of being suspended as he did last year when the threat was new.
"We are going to play football until the courts or somebody rules any different," he said.