Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams — who is facing a six-game suspension for a failed performance-enhancing drug test — also flunked a second test a month later, according to documents filed in his court case challenging the suspension.
Williams also was involved in an incident during a third test in which a bottle fell from his waist area while he was providing a urine sample, according to the documents.
The information adds broader context to Williams’ suspension, which the linebacker is currently appealing to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Last month, when a federal judge rejected Williams’ request to overturn the suspension, she sided with the National Football League’s argument that “subsequent incidents demonstrated [Williams'] ‘common scheme or plan’ to manipulate tests.”
But Williams’ attorney says the details also provide further examples of the NFL’s slapdash prosecution of the case. Peter Ginsberg, Williams’ attorney, said the NFL never pursued disciplinary action against Williams for the second test. And, he said, both Williams and a Broncos trainer refuted the suggestion that the bottle incident was anything fishy.
“This other allegation unfortunately reflects the irresponsible way the NFL is going about its business these days,” Ginsberg said this week. “The NFL made the suggestion but offered no evidence, refused to present anyone involved in either this specimen collection process or the testing of that specimen and simply made an allegation that has made its way into the evidentiary record and the media.”
“It’s the wrong way to go about addressing a serious matter.”
For those unfamiliar with the case, let’s start at the beginning.
Last August, Williams provided a urine sample to an NFL-approved drug tester. According to a February letter rejecting Williams’ first appeal of his suspension, that sample was divided in two. One half was sent off for testing for performance-enhancing substances. The other half was sent off to be tested as part of the NFL’s “substances of abuse” program. Williams, according to the letter, was at an “intervention stage” of the program and, thus, subject to random testing.
According to the letter, Williams didn’t know the urine sample would be used for testing in both programs.
When the sample was analyzed for performance-enhancing drugs, testers flagged it because, as one toxicologist later wrote in an e-mail (see page 96 of this court exhibit), “The specimen does not contain any endogenous steroids. The profile is not consistent with a normal, healthy male urine specimen.”
As the February letter explains, endogenous steroids are naturally produced by the body and found in human urine. Their absence in the sample caused testers to conclude that Williams had provided non-human urine. The distinction wouldn’t have been made in a “substances of abuse” test because such tests do not look for endogenous steroids. Instead, the “substances of abuse” test would likely report a negative result for drugs.
(Side note: There is a semi-underground industry devoted to producing synthetic urine that can be used to beat drug tests. The court documents do not make clear whether Williams is accused of using these products.)
(Second side note: Up to this point, the sequence of events is nearly identical to that of former-Bronco Ryan McBean, who initially joined Williams in challenging his suspension but later dropped his half of the lawsuit and agreed to a reduced suspension.)
As the investigation of the August test continued, Williams provided a urine sample in September for another test. In that test, too, toxicologists concluded the sample was not human urine. (This is referenced in the February letter, as well as the NFL’s motion for summary judgment in the subsequent court case.)
Then, during a test in November, one specimen collector said he saw Williams appear to drop a bottle during the test. As detailed in the February letter, Williams then appeared to kick the bottle toward his locker. Because the collectors were not allowed to enter the locker room, one went to ask a trainer to retrieve the bottle, according to the letter.
Williams and head trainer Steve Antonopulos later returned with a brown bottle. Antonopulos said he saw Williams take the bottle from his locker and give it to the collectors. One collector — who was new to the job — said the bottle he saw fall from Williams’ waist area was opaque and clear-colored.
“My only reaction was just that that wasn’t the bottle that I had saw,” the collector testified, according to the February letter.
Williams said the bottle contained something legal that he used for energy and said it fell from his pocket during the test, according to the February letter. He said he accidentally kicked the bottle when turning to hand the collector his urine sample — he didn’t intentionally kick it.
“The evidence is clear,” hearing officer Harold Henderson wrote in the February letter, “that Williams was involved in three separate incidents of attempted substitution of a specimen.”
Ginsberg, though, has blasted the NFL’s collection and testing procedures. In the lawsuit — filed in March after administrative options ran out — Ginsberg argued that Williams had never failed a test before and said the NFL’s chain-of-custody policies are so shoddy that it is impossible to tell whether the sample tested was actually Williams’. He argued that there is conflicting information about who signed for the FedEx shipment containing Williams’ sample and when that shipment arrived.
Ginsberg said Henderson was a biased arbiter because, not only is he a longtime NFL league-office employee, but also he had improper communications about the case with another NFL executive.
Ginsberg also noted that the specimen collector who handled the August test has since been fired. Ginsberg said this week that the collector was fired for failing to follow the verification and security procedures for test samples. The February letter said he was fired, “based on the samples [he] collected which were found by the laboratory not to be consistent with human urine.”
Likely the last chance Williams has to avoid suspension before the NFL season begins rests with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Williams has requested a sped-up timeline for that appeal, and his attorneys have already filed a 57-page brief summarizing their arguments. A response from the NFL is due by the end of the month, but the case has not yet been set for argument.