Six players got hit with four-game suspensions this week for taking a banned diuretic that can be used as a steroid masking agent. The diuretic was an unlisted ingredient in a weight-loss supplement.
The NFL Players Association was hoping a U.S. District Court Judge would issue an injunction Friday morning blocking the suspensions of five of them, Deuce McAllister, Will Smith and Charles Grant of the New Orleans Saints and Pat and Kevin Williams of the Minnesota Vikings, though Grant is already out for the year with an injury. The sixth player, Bryan Pittman of the Houston Texans, isn't a part of the union lawsuit.
The basic argument is pretty simple. The players say they had no idea the legal supplement, StarCaps, contained the banned diuretic.
The lawsuit also says the doctor and lawyer who administer the league's testing program knew that StarCaps contained the diuretic bumetanide but didn't tell players about it because they didn't want StarCaps to become a handy excuse for positive tests. That's a breach of the league's duty to keep players informed, the union says.
The league's argument is even simpler: Players are responsible for what they put in their body, period. Knowingly or unknowingly. If you don't know exactly what you're taking, don't take it. And that's a rule, incidentally, that was agreed to in collective bargaining. "In other words," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail to the Associated Press, "the players have agreed to the rules and the procedures that they are now challenging."
I feel strongly both ways. Sort of. I see the NFL's point about the rules being the rules and the players should lay off the damn supplements. I see the players' point that they're getting the book thrown at them over some unlisted ingredient that isn't even a steroid, it's something that can be used to mask steroids.
It's like getting 20 years for buying a jacket with big pockets because some people use big pockets like that to hide a gun after they shoot someone. It's three degrees of separation from an actual crime.
What's clear here isn't who's going to win in court, or that Deuce McAllister and Company are bad guys or the NFL is an evil, unfeeling, Draconian automaton of a corporation. What's clear is that the league needs to refine and rationalize its drug rules.
When you're suspending players for the stretch drive of the season over such a ticky-tack offense, you've got yourself too wide of a net. "It's just common sense that someone shouldn't be punished in those circumstances," union lawyer David Feher told the A.P., and that sounds pretty reasonable. When one side's talking like that and the other side is barking, "We have rules!" -- it's an unnecessarily ugly scene.
The NFL needs to get together with the union and fix it. And maybe rent "Midnight Express." The league's justice system is giving off a feint whiff of the Turks in that movie, and that's not real good for P.R. And what's a sports league's anti-drug policy about if it isn't about P.R.?
Here are the Week 14 games, with winners in caps and the picks of the game-pickinest 5-year-old boy and the coin-flippinest 3-year-old girl west of the International Date Line -- or are they east of it? -- included.
Sunday early games
Jacksonville (4-8) at CHICAGO (6-6)
The two teams I can never figure out, year after year, meet. Great. Here's my prediction: The economy's going to get worse before it gets better. Bonus prediction: Chilly in Chicago Sunday. There. Now I've got a shot at two-for-three.
Kids: Chicago (7-point favorite)
Minnesota (7-5) at DETROIT (0-12)
Let's break down the Lions' season. Home: 0-6. Road: 0-6. Conference: 0-9. Non-conference: 0-3. Division: 0-4. Non-division: 0-8. When Lions score first: 0-2. When Lions score second: 0-6. When Lions score first and second: 0-2. As What the Heck™ Pick of the week: 0-7. And counting.
Kids: Minnesota (9.5-point favorite)
Houston (5-7) at GREEN BAY (5-7)
The Packers should get enough turnovers to keep their dim playoff hopes alive. Seven or eight ought to do it.
Kids: Green Bay (6-point favorite)
Cincinnati (1-10-1) at INDIANAPOLIS (8-4)
The Bengals are among the few Americans who are happy with the news coming out of Detroit these days.
Kids: Indianapolis (14-point favorite)
ATLANTA (8-4) at New Orleans (6-6)
Even if the Saints get the court ruling they want, they're in tough against a Falcons team that can grind out yards, eat up clock and have quarterback Matt Ryan complete just enough passes to keep things moving, especially against a weak Saints pass defense. Drew Brees gives the Saints a puncher's chance, but the thing about punchers is they tend to get punched. Brees is tied for the league lead in both touchdown passes and interceptions.
Kids: New Orleans
Philadelphia (6-5-1) at N.Y. GIANTS (11-1)
Nice quiet week for the Giants. Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg at a nightclub with an allegedly unregistered gun. He's suspended indefinitely and appears headed for the pokey, at least if Mayor Michael Bloomberg has anything to say about it. This is the sort of straightforward crime and punishment that plays a lot better than popping a bunch of guys over wee-wee juice.
Kids: New York (7-point favorite)
Cleveland (4-8) at TENNESSEE (11-1)
The Ken Dorsey era in Cleveland gets off to a brutal start.
Kids: Tennessee (14-point favorite)
Sunday late games
MIAMI (7-5) at Buffalo (6-6)
The Dolphins always have trouble in the cold Northern climes of the rest of the AFC East at this time of year, so the Bills are taking them even farther north, to Toronto, which I'm told is in a whole nother country. But they're going to play the game inside! Bad move, Bills.
Kansas City (2-10) at DENVER (7-5)
The Chiefs have only won two games but by gum, they've both been division games. And one of them was over the Broncos. Because of those wins and the NFL's convoluted tie-breaking system, the Chiefs have virtually no chance at getting LeBron James next year. They won't compound their mistake in Denver.
Kids: Denver (9.5-point favorite)
N.J. JETS (8-4) at San Francisco (4-8)
Jets in games played within a city-bus ride of the Pacific Ocean: 0-2. Jets everywhere else in the universe: 8-2. The schedule-maker was not kind to a team that turns out not to like long flights. The 49ers aren't so fond of playing in San Francisco either. The last time they won a home game over a team that wasn't spectacularly craptacular was Dec. 23, 2007, when they beat the Buccaneers. Their home wins this year are over the Lions and Rams. That barely counts. The Jets need this game and will overcome their jetlag.
Daisy: San Francisco
Buster: New York
NEW ENGLAND (7-5) at Seattle (2-10)
The Patriots have to fly cross-country too. They won in San Francisco and lost in San Diego in back-to-back weeks in October, but they only had to fly once. They stayed in California in between. They're doing the same thing this time, in between this game in Seattle and next week's in Oakland. What do you think of that, conspiracy-theorist Patriots fans? Wherever the Patriots stay, this is going to seem like a vacation after that drilling at the hands of the Steelers last week.
Thin at linebacker, New England signed Roosevelt Colvin this week and by the time you read this the Patriots will probably have signed Junior Seau. Jim Plunkett is in talks to sign as an emergency quarterback.
Kids: New England
St. Louis (2-10) at ARIZONA (7-5)
Cardinals vs. NFC West: 4-0. Cardinals vs. rest of world: 3-5. Rams vs. NFC East: 2-2. Rams vs. rest of world: 0-8. Boy, this game's hard to figure.
Kids: Arizona (13.5-point favorite)
Dallas (8-4) at PITTSBURGH (9-3)
The Steelers have Willie Parker back and the Cowboys are banged up in the backfield, with Felix Jones out for the year and Marion Barber hurting. Both teams can whack a quarterback -- though Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware is also limping -- and both quarterbacks can avoid a rush. Ben Roethlisberger has more ways to move the football, Tony Romo has Terrell Owens. If the Steelers can keep him from getting loose too many times, they should continue the roll that started with their ugly win over the Chargers in the snow three weeks ago.
Sunday night game
Washington (7-5) at BALTIMORE (8-4)
Washington had a nice roll early in the year but has been getting cuffed around by a tough schedule lately, losing to division rivals Dallas and the Giants as well as the Steelers in the last four games. It's not getting any better Sunday night against the tough defenders from around the way.
Monday night game
TAMPA BAY (9-3) at Carolina (9-3)
If the playoffs started today -- I don't know why they'd start on a Friday; please hold your questions until the end -- the Buccaneers would have the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. Did you know that? It's an awfully quiet run to No. 2 in a conference that has a lot of noisemakers -- all of whom but one are looking up at Tampa Bay. It's all about running, stopping the run and getting clutch play from a grizzled quarterback for both of these hot teams. The Bucs intercepted Jake Delhomme three times and hammered the Panthers 27-3 in October. This one will be closer, but Jeff Garcia and the Bucs will solidify their spot.
Season record: 114-78-1
So far this week: 1-0
Last week: 9-7
What the Heck™ Picks: 2-11
Consecutive columns in which the concept of urination has been discussed: 2. And counting