Two players currently suspended by the NFL, middle linebacker Odell Thurman of the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Bucs cornerback Torrie Cox, have filed discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in an attempt to have their respective league sanctions overturned.
The lawsuits were filed with the EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Essentially, the players are contending that they have been viewed as alcoholics in the eyes of the NFL, and that perception is the basis for the punitive actions that were imposed by commissioner Roger Goodell. The players were suspended for repeat violations of the NFL substance abuse policy.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers with disabilities. Representatives for the players contend in the separate lawsuits that alcoholism is a disability.
Both suits cite the case of former NBA player Roy Tarpley, the onetime Dallas Mavericks' forward who was suspended in 1995. The EEOC ruled that NBA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it did not reinstate Tarpley even though he apparently passed drug screenings for four straight years.
Last month, Goodell denied Thurman's application for reinstatement to the league, but cited no reason for his decision. A starter for the Bengals in his 2005 rookie season, Thurman was suspended for the entire 2006 campaign and had hoped to return to the team this summer in training camp. Now he faces the prospect of a second straight idle season.
Thurman's agent, John Michels, said that, even though his client acknowledged in court that he has a problem with alcohol, he has passed all the league-administered tests. Thurman is in the process of appealing Goodell's decision not to reinstate him.
Cox was suspended last month for the first four games of this season. His suspension is also under appeal.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com