The StarCaps Saga: Did the NFL Get Caught in an Act of Sabotage?
The saga of the Vikings’ “Williams Wall” and their delayed suspensions (due to a positive drug test for bumetanide) has been ongoing for more than 18 months now.
As of now, the situation is status quo thanks to the ruling of a Minnesota judge.
On Thursday, Hennepin County Judge Gary Larson ruled both for and against Kevin and Pat Williams. On one hand, he said that the NFL did violate Minnesota’s Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act because it didn’t inform the Williamses of the failure within the required three-day span.
However, because the league’s actions (i.e., the failure to inform the Williamses) didn’t harm the players—ostensibly because their suspensions are “still pending”—Pat and Kevin were denied any damages or continued protection from league discipline.
In the end, the split-decision meant that the NFL could still step in and discipline the players, as it did with New Orleans’ Will Allen and former Saint Charles Grant—two other players who tested positive for the drug, which is alleged to be a masking agent for steroid use.
So, the Williamses’ attorney petitioned the judge for a further injunction preventing NFL discipline, and Larson will decide on that in the next few weeks.
Great...so we’re back at square one, right?
Not so fast, because if you believe in conspiracy theories, the Williamses’ case may have been a crack in an “underhanded” plan by the NFL to enforce its own policies more effectively.
Reading into the 27-page ruling that Judge Larson set forth (which you can read in full here), it appears as if the league itself may be the one that got its hands caught in the cookie jar.
On Page Seven of the ruling, Larson cites that the “NFL has sent several letters to the players warning them not to use any dietary supplements because they often contain prohibited substances that are not listed on the packaging” and “also sent alerts for specific brands of products that should not be used.”
However, “the NFL never sent an alert about StarCaps.”
OK, understandable, right? Maybe the NFL didn’t know StarCaps contained a banned substance. Clearly, the players didn’t, and it wasn’t on the label, right?
Again, not so fast.
On Page 13 of his ruling, Judge Larson advised that as early as 2005, Drs. John A. Lombardo and Bryan Finkle—the NFL’s adviser and general toxicologist on matters of anabolic steroids and related substances, respectively—knew that a group of players had tested positive for bumetanide, which has side effects that can be fatal if taken (and/or “overdosed” on) inadvertently.
The judge found that the doctors became concerned because it was a new finding for them, and that, after discussing findings and talking to players, they nailed StarCaps as the source.
Excellent detective work, as they seemingly found something that should be brought to the league’s attention. It was...but did the NFL ignore it?
The ruling later confirms that Dr. Lombardo informed Adolpho Birch, who is the NFL’s counsel for labor relations, about the findings, and Birch agreed to inform the FDA about it—but willingly didn’t.
So, in essence, Birch knew StarCaps contained bumetanide but decided not to tell the NFLPA, the players, or the teams about it—meaning players would continue to take the product and test positive, as they had in the past.
Sounds a little sketchy, no? Well, it gets worse.
Larson goes on to state that “Birch, thereafter, directed Lombardo to report any future players for discipline who tested positive for bumetanide, even though their use thereof was inadvertent,” and likened it to a game of “Gotcha.”
Somehow, though, the results of the Williamses’ tests (and Grant’s and Allen’s, as well) were leaked to the press.
Larson states that Commissioner Roger Goodell wasn’t interested in discovering why and didn’t request an investigation, but Birch did his own and concluded that no one in the NFL was responsible—a finding Larson called “highly suspect” based on “a totally unsupportable and unfounded conclusion, alleging that a certain individual outside of the NFL was the actual source of the leak.”
So then who was?
No one seems to know that (other than it wasn’t the Williamses’ attorney), but do they really want to?
The (Potential) Aftermath
Even without a legal background, one can plainly see that the NFL may have gotten caught in a game of subterfuge, and here’s the conspiracy theory:
Clearly, the league wants to crack down on drug and steroid use—and to its credit, Commissioner Goodell has done a great job of that so far.
However, Goodell and Co. may have seen an opening here, one that would allow them to say that because bumetanide is a known masking agent, anyone who tests positive for it would be suspended per the policy, as well as subject to further testing for steroids.
If the players were unaware of each other and/or the doctors’ findings, they still wouldn’t know why they were getting nailed for bumetanide, right?
At best, it’s a scapegoat back door into scaring steroids out of the league...and at worst, an innovative way to enforce a warning (about dietary supplements) that would never get regulated into the CBA as a mandatory law.
So what really happened? As of now, that's debatable, and you can form your own conclusions.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith apparently has, issuing the following statement after the ruling was handed down:
“We have seen the ruling in the Star Caps case and will continue to review and monitor its events closely. The NFL Players Association has always believed in and supported the collectively-bargained drug policy as the most effective way to protect the players and the game. This policy is the most effective in sports when both sides strictly adhere to it.”
Sounds to me that without saying it, Smith is subtly accusing the NFL of the conspiracy theory I’ve outlined.
Either way, it will be a week or two until Judge Larson rules on the further injunctions, meaning that any suspensions or other discipline will likely be tabled well into the offseason.
But regardless of their punishment, the Williamses’ lengthy saga may have saved dozens of NFL players from a fate they would have unintentionally and undeservedly acquired.
What do you think?