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It's Not Right, But It's Legal

With the early summer sun shining and mini camps going on at Winter Park, it’s finally possible for me to dare to believe that football will be beginning, in earnest, in just about two months. The off-season feels longer every summer with stories about football and the Vikings few and far between. However, on and off, since the end of the 2009 season, Pat and Kevin Williams, stars of the Vikings defensive line, have been in the news as they continue to fight the 4-game suspensions the NFL handed down when they tested positive for a banned substance.

If nothing else, the StarCaps debacle has been profitable for the lawyers and educational for the public. Way back in the summer of 2008 Pat and Kevin Williams and three players from the New Orleans Saints tested positive for bumetanide in a standard drug screening. Bumetanide, a diuretic, is banned by the NFL because it could be used to mask the use of steroids. However, as anyone who has ever experienced fluid retention might tell the NFL, diuretics can also be used to shed water weight. And, being big, chubby guys with weight clauses in their contracts, that’s the reason Pat and Kevin gave for taking StarCaps diet pills.

So the lines were drawn. The NFL wanted to suspend the players saying that they are responsible for what they put in their bodies regardless of the fact that bumetanide was not listed anywhere as an ingredient in StarCaps. The players felt they were being portrayed as dopers when they were simply trying to lose weight. The legal battle focused on personnel law regarding workplace drug testing. Eventually, the courts ruled for the NFL and the NFL has been trying to make sure that players aren’t ever again allowed to legally challenge suspensions this way. However, an injunction remains in place allowing Pat and Kevin to play the 2010 season while they appeal their case.

As this case has dragged on, it’s begun to feel like a case of the millionaire players chafing at restrictions laid out by the billionaire owners, focusing on loopholes in workplace law. But it seems to me that there is a bigger issue that isn’t being talked about, an issue of ethics rather than legality.

According to Brian Murphy’s reports in St. Paul’s Pioneer Press last year, the NFL was aware as early as November 2006 that StarCaps contained bumetanide even though bumetanide was not listed as a StarCaps ingredient. When prescribed by a physician, bumetanide is used to treat congestive heart failure and renal disease. Further toxicology testing showed that, not only was bumetanide present in StarCaps, but the levels at which it was present met or exceeded prescription levels. By it’s own admission, the NFL knew that StarCaps contained therapeutic levels of a controlled substance and their only move toward player safety regarding StarCaps was to say that NFL players were prohibited from endorsing StarCaps.

Even if protecting players’ health in the hard-hitting NFL seems like a contradiction in terms that’s right up there with military intelligence, it can’t be overlooked that the NFL knew a potentially harmful substance was in StarCaps and, apparently, did nothing. They didn’t promote the use of StarCaps or allow their players to endorse StarCaps, but there’s also no evidence that the NFL reported their findings to the Food and Drug Administration or any other government regulatory agency.

Vikings fans don’t have to look back too far to remember the tragedy that can come from mixing heat, exertion, and diet pills. That combination contributed to the heat stroke that killed Vikings player Korey Stringer in 2001.

But supposing you don’t care about big, burly football players trying to drop weight because of their contracts, consider some of the people who might use diet pills. There are the teenage girls with body image issues, mothers trying to lose baby weight, people going to high school reunions, guys going through a divorce, guys going through a mid-life crisis, debutants walking the red carpet, women who are getting married, mothers whose daughters are getting married, people nervous about bathing suit season… Well, there are a lot of potential diet pill users. So, in withholding the information that StarCaps contained bumetanide, the NFL withheld information that could have damaged the health of anyone who might have used StarCaps, not just millionaire football players.

While the NFL may not have done anything illegal, to me, there is something distinctly smarmy about not releasing the information that StarCaps was tainted with bumetanide, an issue all but lost in the legal proceedings.

1 comment:

  1. I can't agree more with the something smarmy comment if the NFL wants to build good will and generally act well with things like the United Way it shouldn't be a half hearted effort and they should try and do things the right way as part of normal business.