Though the NFL has reason to feel pretty good about most of Thursday’s 44-page ruling in the StarCaps litigation odyssey, cause for concern still exists, both for the league and two reporters who cover the league for a living.
For starters, the league will lose the case — and the four-game suspensions of Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams could be forever blocked — if it can be proven that both the Vikings and the NFL employ the players. Without delving too far into the legal niceties, the NFL has argued in the past that, for labor law purposes, the league and its 32 teams are a single entity. Here, the league insists it doesn’t employ the players. An impartial observer easily could conclude that the NFL is trying to have it both ways.
If the court finds that the NFL is an employer of the players, the players will have proven that their rights under Minnesota law were violated because the league failed to provide the players with timely notice of their positive drug test results. A second violation could arise based on the Minnesota requirement of confidentiality regarding drug testing.
The players claim the league failed to keep the results of the testing secret, as evidenced by the fact that multiple reporters disclosed the information publicly, even before Kevin and Pat Williams were informed that they had tested positive. Judge Gary Larson concluded that the leak of the information represents a "question of fact," which means that both sides will have to put on evidence at trial regarding how the information did, or didn’t, make its way from 280 Park Avenue to Main Street, U.S.A.
And that should make a couple of reporters — Jay Glazer of Fox and Josina Anderson of Fox 31 in Denver — more than a little nervous. Both broke key portions of the story in October 2008, and both could soon be facing a pointed request to identify their sources.
At the time, lawyer David Cornwell called upon the league to revoke Anderson’s "credentials and access to NFL games and other league events until she discloses her sources." As it turns out, the league might not have to take away Anderson’s credentials; it’s hard to attend NFL games while residing behind bars.
Though incarceration would be an extreme outcome, the dominoes could fall in a way that finds Anderson and/or Glazer sitting on a witness stand and confronting the decision of whether to disclose their sources or face the consequences. Glazer says he’s not concerned.
"What the hell do I care? All I do is fight and lift weights anyway," Glazer joked in a telephone interview on Thursday. "Wait a minute, there’s no women in prison, is there? That would be a big problem."
Asked for a more serious comment, Glazer said this: "This is the third time that this possibility has been brought up to me. When I reported the names of the 10 NFL players linked to BALCO and the four who faced discipline because of it, Raiders officials asked that I be subpoenaed to disclose my sources. There was also talk of Congress forcing me to testify when I broke the Spygate videotape. I’ll deal with it if it happens. All my sources know I would never, ever give them up for anything."
In this case, the stakes are higher than usual for the sources of the reports. Under league rules, a person who discloses information regarding positive drug tests faces a fine of up to $500,000.
With those potential penalties making it highly unlikely that any employees of the league will admit to blabbing, the reporters might be the only persons who can shed light on the violation of the rights of Kevin and Pat Williams.
Whether either or both of the reporters are forced to choose between singing on the stand or sitting in a cell remains to be seen. The trial is scheduled for March 8, so any effort to compel either or both of them to testify will have to commence fairly quickly.
Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.