NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has decided not to implement, for now, the four-game suspensions imposed last year against Saints defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant for using an over-the-counter supplement known as StarCaps, which unknown to the players had been spiked with a banned substance.
In a news release, the league office explained that the suspensions “will not be enforced at the present time.”
“This situation presents several unique and narrow aspects that I believe call for us to put the good of the game ahead of questions of discipline,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the release. “Considerations of fairness, uniform application of our policies, and competitive integrity all support deferring the suspensions at this time. I am not prepared to treat players differently when the same conduct is involved.”
The problem is that Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, who also used StarCaps, have managed to avoid the suspensions via the assertion of legal theories arising under Minnesota statutory law. Though there is no current impediment to the imposition of the suspensions on Grant and Smith, the concern is that different outcomes would be realized for the same behavior.
“Our primary goal is to maintain the effectiveness and integrity of our program, which has repeatedly been recognized as among the finest in all of sports,” Goodell said. “An important part of that program has been a tradition of fairness for players and clubs, with all players knowing they are held to a common standard. Because the Minnesota and New Orleans players committed the same violation and had their appeals resolved at the same time, I believe the appropriate step is to defer the suspensions while we pursue both our legal options and continue discussions with the NFLPA.”
The Minnesota litigation involving Kevin and Pat Williams will most likely not be resolved until after the 2009 season. If the league wins that case, then the suspensions against all players who took StarCaps undoubtedly would be imposed.
Meanwhile, the league arguably vented some frustration over today’s outcome by throwing more stones at the union for fighting the suspensions in the first place.
“Now that the courts have rejected the NFLPA’s improper challenge to our collectively bargained program, we hope the union will join us in ensuring that these principles of fairness and uniformity are preserved,” Goodell said. “The union’s unfortunate refusal to do so thus far has created needless uncertainty for our program. This is an important issue not only for the NFL, but for all sports and everyone who cares about the integrity of sports competition. This is why the other professional leagues and the USADA supported us in this case. “
Bottom line? Barring some type of a settlement that vacates the potential suspensions and closes the loophole on which the Vikings players relied, the fate of the Saints’ players will be tied directly to whether the lawsuit brought by the Vikings’ players prevails.