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WILLIAMS WALL WON’T FALL

Judge Paul Magnuson decided on Friday to temporarily prevent the NFL from suspending five NFL players who took a supplement that, unbeknownst to them, had been spiked with a banned substance. Per the Associated Press, Judge Magnuson decided after several hours of oral argument in two pending lawsuits challenging the suspensions that he needs more time to assess the matter. As a result, Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams and Saints running back Deuce McAllister and Will Smith will be available on Sunday. Saints defensive end Charles Grant previously was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Thus, the suspension would not have affected his ability to play. Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jackson took the same supplement, known as StarCaps. However, the internal appeal of his suspension has been deferred as the NFL gathers more evidence. The decision doesn’t mean that the four players will automatically be permitted to finish the season with their respective clubs. Judge Magnuson could decide next week that the players have failed to meet the standard for blocking the league from implementing the suspensions pending the outcome of the lawsuit. And that’s precisely what this phase of the case is about. The players want the court to tell the NFL that the suspensions can’t be implemented until the litigation concludes. It’s one thing to secure a short-term stay of the suspensions; it’s quite another to persuade a judge to tie the NFL’s hands until the case is over. Typically in matters of this nature, the plaintiffs must prove that they will suffer “irreparable harm” if the defendant isn’t blocked from doing whatever it is that the defendant plans to do. The defendant in such cases usually responds by arguing that, since the plaintiffs can later recover a monetary award to compensate them for their lost wages and other damages, their available remedies are adequate and “equitable relief” (e.g., telling a party that it can’t do something that it wants to do) isn’t appropriate. In other words, the NFL will argue in this case that, because the players can later recover cash money from the league if it turns out that the suspensions violated their legal rights, there’s no need to stop the league from suspending them. In this type of case, however, where NFL players have only so many seasons during which they can play NFL football and where that lost 25 percent of one season will never return, the argument in favor of a finding of irreparable harm might be stronger than most cases involving actions to be taken against employees. The real battleground in this case could be the requirement that, in order to obtain an injunction pending the outcome of the litigation, the players must prove that they have a strong likelihood of eventually winning the case. The NFL surely is arguing strenuously that the legal theories advanced by the players are not valid, because the only potential legal claim that can be made in this case is that the NFL violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement and/or the steroids policy (which while not part of the CBA was also the product of collective bargaining). Even if, the NFL likely has argued, one or more of the league’s employees knew that StarCaps had been spiked with Bumetanide, failing to specifically warn the players is not a violation of the CBA or the steroids policy. The players obviously disagree; to obtain an injunction while the litigation progresses, however, the players need to be able to demonstrate that, when the dust settles, their position likely will prevail. It might be hard for the players to do, and it might result in the restraining order being lifted before Thursday night, when the Saints play the Bears.