In the litigation filed by Vikings defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams against the NFL, it has long been alleged that the NFL did not suspend other players who had tested positive for Bumetanide due to taking StarCaps, an over-the-counter weight loss supplement that had been spiked with the banned substance.
And though there had been prior indications that the allegation of disparate treatment was correct, the man responsible for implementing and overseeing the league’s steroids policy admitted while testifying on Tuesday that, indeed, suspension were not imposed on multiple players. Specifically, Dr. John Lombardo testified that more than six players who tested positive for diuretics from 2005 to 2007 were not punished, per the Associated Press.
Lombardo really had no choice. Last month, Judge Gary Larson acknowledged these facts in a 44-page written ruling regarding various claims in the case, a copy of which we obtained at the time. “The NFL and Dr. Lombardo knew, in 2006, that at least some StarCaps capsules contained Bumetanide,” Judge Larson wrote. “Indeed, when several players tested positive for Bumetanide after taking StarCaps in 2006, Dr. Lombardo and the NFL asked Aegis Sciences Corporation, an independent laboratory, to analyze StarCaps. These players were placed on reasonable cause testing rather than suspended four games.”
So others, for whatever reason, were not suspended. From the standpoint of basic fairness, that’s a big deal.
But it gets even better — or, from the league’s perspective, worse. Judge Larson also has acknowledged that, as consistently alleged by the players, the NFL knew that StarCaps had been spiked with Bumetanide but ultimately told no one that StarCaps secretly contained a prescription medication that has serious potential side effects, like heat stroke, brain swelling, and cardiac arrest.
“Mr. Crouch, a toxicologist at Aegis, found Bumetanide in StarCaps and informed [Adolpho] Birch and Dr. Lombardo of the results,” Judge Larson wrote. “In November 2006, Mr. Crouch volunteered to notify the FDA that StarCaps contained Bumetanide. Dr. Lombardo agreed that the FDA should be notified. Birch, however, claimed responsibility for warning the FDA. Birch never did so.”
What of the vague assertion that is made from time to time that the NFL told the NFLPA about StarCaps? Here’s what Judge Larson found, based on the undisputed facts presented to him by the parties.
“Birch did not inform the NFLPA that StarCaps contained Bumetanide, but did inform it that players were prohibited from providing endorsements for Balanced Health Products, the distributor of StarCaps,” Judge Larson wrote. “Birch also sent a memorandum to each team’s president, general manager, and head athletic train stating that players were not to endorse Balanced Health Products.” But Judge Larson also pointed out that, in past situations, the league had sent specific notices to players “alerting them of products posing health risks to players.”
So what was the NFL’s objective in this case? As we’ve previously heard it, the league feared that any and all players who had tested positive for Bumetanide would blame the outcome on StarCaps, even if they hadn’t taken StarCaps. Given, however, that the league did not suspend at least six such players, that explanation no longer makes sense to us.
Bottom line? In the legal system, the facts of a case drive the manner in which the law is applied. Here, the reality that other players were not suspended coupled with the failure of the league to tell anyone that StarCaps contained a substance that presented a potential risk to the health and life of players has fueled the litigation through state and federal courts, and it makes us convinced that, in the end, Judge Larson will find a way to conclude that, under Minnesota law, the suspensions of Pat and Kevin Williams must be set aside.
Meanwhile, we suspect that, once the dust settles on the litigation, heads will roll within the corridors of the 15th, 16th, and 17th floors of 280 Park Avenue. Commissioner Roger Goodell ultimately is a man of good will and common sense, and there surely will be accountability for the manner in which this matter was handled, unless there’s a darn good explanation.
A darn good explanation that has yet to become apparent.