As expected, Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams (pictured) and defensive end Ryan McBean filed in court on Monday a legal challenge to the league’s imposition of six-game suspensions on each of them for allegedly violating the league’s steroids policy. PFT has obtained a copy of the relevant paperwork.
Although their suspensions were resolved via binding arbitration, the law allows arbitration awards to be attacked under certain specific circumstances. Generally, the players claim that the arbitrator assigned to the case (NFL executive Harold Henderson) exceeded his powers, engaged in misconduct, disregarded the law, and was not impartial. Specifically, they argue (among other things) that Henderson “ignored fatal issues concerning the collection process, safeguarding of the urine specimens and chain of custody,” engaged in private communications with the NFL about the case, delayed the ruling at the direction of the NFL, and failed to issue a decision within five days after the hearing.
They seek not only a reversal of the suspensions but a preliminary injunction preventing the suspensions from being implemented while the case is pending.
To support their claims, the players allege multiple violations of the league’s sample-collection and chain-of-custody procedures. Williams alleges a failure to seal the sample in his presence, failure to document the time the sample was provided, failure to secure Williams’ initials on the seal on the side of the specimen container, failure to establish the whereabouts of the sample for as long as two hours and 50 minutes, and failure to indicate the time the sample was received by FedEx. McBean claims that he did not personally witness the sealing of two of four sample vials, and that certain documents regarding the arrival of the sample at the lab were duplicative and contradictory, with one record showing the sample was received on August 20, 2011 and another record showing the sample arrived a week later.
The tests determined the samples to be non-human specimens.
Complicating matters for the league is that the specimen collector eventually was fired for failure “to fulfill his duties and obligations as a specimen collector in material manners, including with regard to the collection, handling and safeguarding of the Williams Urine Specimen and McBean Urine Specimen.”
The players also claim that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash directed Henderson to delay the issuance of a ruling following the December 13, 2011 appeal hearing. Although the players do not specifically contend that Pash hoped to ensure that the players would be available during Denver’s playoff run, the petition points out the benefit the league derived from a delay: “[T]he NFL was riding the wave of publicity flowing from [Tim] Tebow’s rise to stardom. By pushing the possible suspensions beyond the 2011 season, the NFL commercially benefited by keeping the Broncos as competitive as possible during the 2011 playoff run, for the NFL’s pecuniary benefit and at the Players’ expense.”
Though some would say that the players also benefited from having the suspensions delayed, Williams will lose more money in 2012 because he has a higher salary. Also, McBean is a free agent, and the full six-game suspension could make it harder for him to land a new contract.
The court likely will issue soon an order establishing a date for the filing of the NFL’s response. The case seems to be fairly straightforward, unless the NFL disputes the key factual allegations regarding the chain of custody flaws, the communications between Pash and Henderson, and/or the requirement that a decision be issued within five days.