I may not look it, not fit the profile, but deep within me beats the heart of a rabid football fan. Don’t let my affection for Jane Austen books and goat cheese fool you, I mark time by training camp, preseason, regular season, and off season. After the Superbowl and Pro Bowl, I go into a football withdrawal marked by generalized depression and loss of interest in life in general until the NFL Draft in the spring. And the object of all my affection is the Minnesota Vikings. What can I say, I love not too wisely, but too well.
So today, on May 14, 2009, my soul is on edge. Too melodramatic? Okay, I’m apprehensive. The fate of the famed Williams Wall is on the line in court today and I’m desperately trying to understand why the hell no one thought to organize a candlelight vigil for them last night.
Today the StarCaps saga that started when several NFL players tested positive for bumetanide last summer, is hitting another milestone (a.k.a. the fan) as they argue in a hearing in St. Paul. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that Judge Paul Magnuson rules in favor of the players.
Last season Vikings fans held their collective breath and feared the worst when it came out that Pat and Kevin Williams, our Pro Bowl defensive linemen, tested positive for a banned substance that is associated with masking steroids. The Williams boys and three players from the New Orleans Saints were slapped with a four game suspension by the league and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell preened like he was a bad-ass mamba-jamba, talking about the league’s zero tolerance policy for steroids and related substances. Bumetanide, associated with masking steroids in drug tests, was found in the players’ drug tests and they were guilty.
More than once I found myself whining “Say it ain’t so!” and saw my team’s season swirl down the crapper. The affable, hard-working Williamses were dopers. It was like a veil had been drawn over the sun. But I had underestimated the umbrage and tenacity of the Williams Wall–and just how screwy the whole scandal was. Kevin and Pat Williams were determined to clear their names. Not known for caving under pressure (as anyone who saw their brilliant goal-line stand in their home game against Chicago last year can testify) they felt they were in the right and decided to fight for their reputations. They claimed they took StarCaps to lose weight and had no idea that bumetanide was one of the ingredients. Had they known that the supposedly all-natural StarCaps contained a banned substance they would not have taken them. However, since the league knew and did not tell the players, it was on.
I have gleefully imagined that moment when Roger Goodell, at home reclining in a leather chair and swirling brandy in a Waterford snifter to the strains of Mozart, finds out that the linemen lawyered up and are going to fight their suspension. In my fantasy version of this revelation, Goodell throws the snifter into his fireplace in a fit of rage, and storms around shouting about how they are just big, dumb linemen and who do they think they are coming after him. They’re linemen, they’re supposed to do what I say! However, that is just the work of my overactive imagination. More likely, Goodell had to know this would be messy.
And, so far, it hasn’t disappointed. Shoot, this is the legal equivalent of some good, old-fashioned mud-wrestling. St. Paul judge Paul Magnuson gave the players a temporary injunction that enabled them to finish their season, a season that saw my Vikings on top of their division for the first time in a long time. The Vikings’ success was made possible in large part by a defensive line that was one of the stingiest in the league against the run. Now that the season is over Pat and Kevin Williams are back in court to hash it out and prepare for trial.
Having avidly read about this from the start, I’m really hoping that the NFL gets smacked and it isn’t just because my imagination conjured up a snide Roger Goodell in a smoking jacket as the villan. The NFL knew, KNEW, that StarCaps had bumetanide in them as early as November 2006 despite the fact that bumetanide was not listed anywhere in the ingredients. Dr. Brian Finkle, an NFL toxicologist, discovered the bumetanide present in StarCaps and had toxicologist Dennis Crouch of the University of Utah further test StarCaps for the presence of bumetanide. The findings showed that not only was bumetanide present, it was in concentrations high enough to meet or exceed the prescribed dosage.
This is the part that I found especially interesting—bumetanide is prescribed by doctors to patients with congestive heart failure and renal disease. We’re not talking about a caffeine tablet here, we’re talking about a prescription drug with serious side-effects used to treat life-threatening disease. I realize that I’m not a toxicologist or a physician, but it seems to me that when you discover that a popular weight-loss supplement, claiming to be natural, is spiked with dangerously high levels of a prescription drug, that is the kind of thing that should be made known to players, not in vague, broad, nonspecific language, but specifically and explicitly. Anything less seems like gross negligence with regard to player safety. That’s right, this is a matter of player safety so the league’s bitchy little line about it being the players’ responsibility to know what they were putting in their bodies seems waspish and petty—especially when there was no way for the players to know the supplement contained bumetanide. After all, it isn’t as if bumetanide was on the label, or players who called the league hotline were told not to take StarCaps because they contained bumetanide, or the league made the research they had about StarCaps containing bumetanide available to the players.
So today I’m thinking of Pat and Kevin Williams and I’m admiring just was how gutsy they were to tell the NFL exactly what they could do with that four-game suspension. It would have been so much easier to quietly take a suspension and put this all behind them, but they felt that their reputation was more valuable. Go Pat and Kevin!
* Facts for this post were taken from articles in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Brian Murphy is brilliant.