MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal appeals court on Monday rejected an NFL request to reconsider its decision in a high-profile sports labor case involving two Minnesota Vikings accused of violating the league's anti-doping policy.
In a split decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the NFL's request for a rehearing before either the full appeals court or the same three-judge panel that ruled against the league in September in the case of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Four of the court's 11 judges dissented.
The NFL argued that the ruling hampered its ability to enforce uniform anti-doping standards nationwide. Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL filed court papers supporting the NFL's position, saying it affected their ability to enforce their own rules against steroids and other drugs.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league is considering its options, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Williamses, who are not related, tested positive in 2008 for the diuretic bumetanide, which the NFL bans because it can mask the presence of steroids. The defensive tackles acknowledge taking the weight loss supplement StarCaps, which did not state on the label that it contained the banned drug.
The players are not accused of taking steroids, but the league has been trying without success to suspend them for four games each because its no-tolerance policy holds players responsible for what they put in their bodies.
The dissenting judges said the 8th Circuit's precedents are inconsistent on the issue of "pre-emption" -- whether federal law or state law should govern in a particular case.
"The conflict cited by the petition for rehearing in this case involves an important question of federal law that should be settled, one way or the other," said the dissent, authored by Judge Steven Colloton.
The NFL had argued that federal labor law and the league's collective bargaining agreement should pre-empt state law in this case; otherwise, league efforts against performance-enhancing drugs would be subject to a different set of state laws for each team.
But a federal district court and the three-judge appeals panel disagreed, sending the case back to Hennepin County District Court for further proceedings on whether two Minnesota workplace laws prevent the NFL from enforcing its suspensions against the Williamses.
The three-judge panel's ruling also left two New Orleans Saints who violated the same policy -- defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith -- subject to suspension, but the NFL has been allowing them to play.
Aiello said the NFL is deciding on its next steps.
"While we would have preferred the full Court of Appeals to hear the case, we are encouraged that four members of the court took the rare and extraordinary step of dissenting and doing so at length," Aiello said. "They identified the flaws in the original three-member panel's decision and agreed with our position."
The Williamses' lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in Minneapolis on March 8, and their suspensions remain on hold pending the outcome of that case.
The NFL remains "confident in both the eventual outcome of this litigation and the importance of maintaining a uniform, national policy on performance-enhancing drugs," Aiello said.
The Williamses' attorney, Peter Ginsberg, did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment. Angelo Wright, Pat Williams' agent, welcomed Monday's decision.
"We again feel affirmed," Wright said. "We'll remain steadfast until March."