Judge extends injunction; suspended players cleared to return

MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal judge extended his preliminary
injunction against the NFL's suspension of five players for
violating the league's anti-doping policy, a move their lawyer said
will let them play the rest of the season.

In his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson asked
both parties to propose a schedule by Dec. 22 for further
proceedings that would lead to an eventual hearing on the merits of
the case, a process that could take months. The regular season ends
Dec. 28.

Kevin Williams and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings and
Charles Grant, Deuce McAllister and Will Smith of the New Orleans
Saints were suspended last week for four games each. They tested
positive during training camp for a banned diuretic, bumetanide, in
the dietary supplement StarCaps.

NFLPA lead attorney Jeff Kessler told ESPN's Chris Mortensen, "As long as their teams are still playing, these players will be on the field the rest of the season, including the postseason. You can count on that."

Bumetanide can be used as a masking agent for steroids.
Diuretics are also used to quickly shed weight. The StarCaps label
didn't list the diuretic as an ingredient.

"The players and the union are thrilled," Kessler told The Associated
Press. Kessler said the judge's time frame is long enough that the
players can finish the season and go to the playoffs if their teams
make it that far.

Kevin and Pat Williams, who aren't related, are star defensive
tackles for a Vikings team that is 8-5 and in first place in the
NFC North. They play Sunday at Arizona.

"My attorney gave me a little bit of it, but I was focused on
the game. I really wasn't focused on that," Smith said Thursday
night after the Saints lost in overtime to Chicago 27-24. "So I
got to sit back either tonight or tomorrow and talk to him and see
what happens."

Smith said he wasn't even aware, until told by a reporter, that
Magnuson had extended the injunction.

"I guess that's a good thing, so see what happens, you know,"
he said.

"Since there has to be discovery and other proceedings, it's
unlikely we would agree on a schedule for a trial until sometime
after the Super Bowl," Kessler said.

Magnuson issued his initial injunction Dec. 5 after hearing
arguments from the league and the NFLPA. That move came two days
after a Minnesota state court judge had issued a restraining order
in a lawsuit brought by the Vikings players.

The union argued the NFL didn't properly inform players about
what it knew about StarCaps. The NFL's attorneys argued that claim,
and others, had been considered and rejected in a process set out
by the league's collective bargaining agreement.

Magnuson urged both sides to negotiate a solution. If they
can't, he will preserve the status quo until there is a full
evidentiary hearing on the case. The two sides have until Dec. 22
to negotiate a proposed schedule for filing papers ahead of that
hearing, otherwise the judge will schedule it himself. Magnuson did
not set a hearing date.

The judge said the players' union had shown it will likely
succeed on its claims that the NFL breached its duty to the players
by failing to share what it knew about StarCaps. Another issue is
whether Jeffrey Pash, the NFL's chief legal officer who upheld the
five players' suspensions, was too partial to be an arbitrator.

"We are extraordinarily pleased for Kevin and Pat as well as
for the Vikings fans," Peter Ginsberg, an attorney for the
Williamses, said in a statement. "We appreciate the court's
decision to allow us to conduct a full and fair hearing to explore
the full extent of the NFL's failure to live up to its obligations
to the players."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement the league
accepted the decision.

"This is consistent with the approach the judge has taken in
giving careful consideration to these issues, which we fully
respect," Aiello said.

Richard Berthelsen, acting executive director of the players'
union, said the decision shows that the league can't ignore the
rights of players in issuing arbitration rulings, and that courts
will intervene if it does.

Information from senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press was used in this report.