Hearing planned over Vikings' players

WASHINGTON -- The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to conduct a hearing next month on the case of two professional football players whose suspensions were blocked by a federal appeals court.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is concerned that the legal issues raised in the case "could result in weaker performance-enhancing drugs policies for professional sports," the committee said in a statement issued Thursday to The Associated Press.

The committee provided the statement after the AP reported the hearing, citing two people with knowledge of the committee's plans. The two spoke on the condition of anonymity because the hearing had not yet been announced.

The NFL had attempted to suspend Minnesota Vikings Pat Williams and Kevin Williams four games each for violating the league's anti-doping policy. But the players sued the NFL in state court, asking a judge to block the suspensions, arguing the NFL's testing violated Minnesota workplace laws.

The case was moved to federal court, and the NFL Players Association filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of the Williamses and New Orleans Saints players who were also suspended. In May, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson dismissed the NFLPA's lawsuit and several claims in the Williamses' case -- then sent two claims involving Minnesota workplace laws back to state court. The appeals court panel last month agreed with Magnuson's decisions.

The decision troubled the NFL and professional sports leagues, which expressed concern about players being subjected to different standards depending on their state. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said after the ruling that the NFL was considering its next step, which could include an appeal, a trial in state court or taking the issue to Congress. Subsequently the league was granted more time to file documents asking the court to reconsider the suspensions.

The league wants to suspend the Williamses, who are not related, for testing positive for a banned substance during training camp in 2008. They acknowledge taking the over-the-counter weight loss supplement StarCaps, which did not state on the label that it contained the diuretic bumetanide. The diuretic is banned by the NFL because it can mask the presence of steroids; the players are not accused of taking steroids.

The court ruling led to the NFL's decision to allow New Orleans defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith, who had also been issued four-game suspensions, to continue playing. Both players tested positive after using StarCaps.

The league argued it should be allowed to enforce its drug policy because it was a product of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement with the players union. The agreement is governed by federal labor law, which they argued pre-empted state law.

The Minnesota law mandates that an employer give an employee who tests positive for drug use the right to explain the result.

In a statement, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that rules on performance enhancing drugs should apply equally to all players on all teams, adding, "We look forward to the opportunity to discuss it further with the committee."

George Atallah, a union official, said, "We look forward to cooperating fully with the committee."

Waxman long has had an interest in performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports. As ranking Democrat and then chairman of the Government Reform Committee, he was involved in hearings on steroid use in Major League Baseball.

In the Senate, Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter, who held a hearing last week on steroids in dietary supplements, recently told the AP he was looking into possible legislation so that federal law would govern in cases like the Vikings'.

"The NFL has a rule, and professional football teams play in many, many states," he said. "I don't think there ought to be a deviation as to how you treat players depending on whether they're in Minnesota or Pennsylvania."