StarCaps case likely a no-win for New Orleans Saints defensive ends Charles Grant, Will Smith
Though the StarCaps case has yet to be resolved, it appears Saints defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant are only delaying the inevitable, according to two leading authorities on sports law.
Smith, Grant, former Saints running back Deuce McAllister and two Minnesota Vikings players are facing four-game suspensions for using a banned diuretic (bumetanide) in 2006 in violation of the NFL’s drug policy.
“At the end of the day, the only way for them to get off the hook is for a court to say that a player who tests positive may still not be disciplined if somehow the NFL acted improperly itself,” said Gary Roberts, dean and professor of law at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. “That would just undermine the whole concept of the drug-testing regime.
“This is very important to the NFL. If they lose this case, it changes the dynamic of their drug-testing policy.”
A federal judge in Minneapolis denied a request Friday by the NFL Players Association to put the suspensions of the five players on hold while the case over use of a banned substance is being appealed.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has sent some issues surrounding the suspensions of Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams to the Minnesota state courts. A trial date for those claims was set for mid-June.
Yahoo! Sports reported settlement talks between the union and NFL broke down May 22, the day Magnuson rendered his ruling. According to the story, the NFL reportedly was willing to dispense with the suspensions but still wanted the players to pay a “six-figure fine.”
Based on Grant’s 2009 base salary of $1.85 million, a four-game suspension prorated over the 17-week season would cost him $435,294. Based on Smith’s 2009 base salary of $1.07 million, a four-game suspension would cost him $235,295.76.
The league is appealing the judge’s decision to send some of the Williamses claims to state court. Those claims involve Minnesota laws on when and how employers can require employees to submit to drug testing. They also prohibit Minnesota employers from disciplining employees for using a legal substance off site during nonworking hours.
“There is a very serious issue and that is whether these Minnesota statutes can be applied here,” Roberts said. “There are several cases over the years where federal courts have held that when it comes to sports leagues, rules have to be applied league-wide in order for there to be competitive balance and fairness.
“In other words, you can’t apply one set of drug-testing rules to the Vikings and another set of drug-testing rules to the Saints. That would be in violation of the dormant commerce clause in the Constitution, which basically says states can’t regulate interstate commerce. If we apply the Minnesota statutes to the NFL’s drug-testing policy, in effect — what we’re doing — we’re imposing Minnesota law on all 32 NFL teams, and that’s what the constitution says the state of Minnesota can’t do.”
Matt Mitten, a professor and director of the national sports law institute at Marquette, concurred with Roberts.
“This has been raised in the past when there have been efforts to apply state anti-trust and/or labor laws into the operations of national professional sports leagues, and courts have generally agreed with that argument on the ground that there needs to be a single uniform law that should apply,” Mitten said.
“If the players’ union and the league has agreed, ‘OK, here is the drug-testing protocol, here are the rules and the sanctions, here are how disputes are going to be resolved,’ then there shouldn’t be one set of rules under state law for players in Minnesota, Louisiana, California, Ohio, etc. I suspect that the Minnesota state law doesn’t apply here. That would be consistent with how courts have ruled in the past.”
Roberts said that a favorable ruling for the plaintiffs in the StarCaps case would likely draw interest on Capitol Hill.
“If Minnesota law can allow players who test positive for a banned substance to somehow raise a legal claim that they can’t be disciplined because the league somehow did something wrong, that is a very important change in the whole dynamic of the drug-testing system,” Roberts said. “And frankly, I think Congress would be very unhappy with that result because Congress has pushed professional sports leagues to establish more rigorous drug testing regimes.
“To have players test positive for something and than be able to get off the hook by somehow pointing the finger back at the league — ‘You did something wrong, therefore I should be able to go free’ — is something that I don’t think Congress would take kindly to. It will draw very sharp negative reaction from the public and the politicians.”
Roberts cited another compelling aspect of the StarCaps case, one that he said makes the players look somewhat sympathetic in the court of public opinion.
“We’re not talking about a performance-enhancing drug here,” Roberts said. “It was simply a masking drug. There is not much dispute that they didn’t intend to take it. They took it for weight loss.
“So there is very little chance that these players were trying to cheat. You don’t get better playing football by taking a masking agent unless you’re also taking a steroid at the same time that the masking agent is masking. And there is no hint here that they were doing that. So, they look like they are pretty innocent in the sense that they weren’t trying to cheat. At worse, they were negligent.”
N.O. MAKES MOVES: The Saints re-signed undrafted rookie guard Shawn Flanagan and waived tackle Augustus Parrish.
Flanagan, a 6-foot-5, 310-pounder from the University of Sioux Falls, played tackle in college. He originally signed with New Orleans on May 10 after auditioning for team officials during rookie minicamp. He was released May 22.