Jumping the Gun on Doping: A Golfer’s Lawsuit Against the PGA

On January 29, 2013, professional golfer Vijay Singh admitted to using Ultimate Spray during a Sports Illustrated interview. He thought he was advertising for a product that eased his back pain. Later that day, he found himself in a media hailstorm and facing professional setbacks. He had admitted to using “deer antler spray” that contained a prohibited growth hormone, IGF-1.

The PGA Tour immediately sanctioned Singh and gave him 90-day suspension for violating the PGA Anti-Doping Policy. Immediately, Singh began the process to appeal his suspension. In late-April, PGA contacted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who informed it that IGF-1 was no longer considered a banned substance and that the Ultimate Spray did not contain “enough” of the hormone to be performance-enhancing. According to the PGA Tour press statement, WADA “had clarified that it no longer considers the use of deer-antler spray to be prohibited unless a positive test results.” Singh won his appeal; however, he also lost a lucrative endorsement with Cleveland Golf that he had had for sixteen years.

In May 2013, Singh sued the PGA Tour. Since then, it has been a long, contentious, and often confidential battle within the court system.  On May 10, 2016, Judge Eileen Bransten partially lifted the confidentiality order on the case, a ruling that Singh and his attorneys wanted.  Even more recently, Singh filed a memorandum accusing PGA of subjecting him to “absurd and unfair treatment” with the New York State Supreme Court. Singh requested a motion for partial summary judgement claiming that his treatment was arbitrary and a breach of good faith of general PGA Tour policy.

According to Singh, the PGA Tour did not investigate or penalize five other professional golfers who admitted publicly to using the spray. Singh accused the PGA Tour of misleading the public when it released news that it was no longer pursuing the anti-doping case against Singh because of updates from the WADA. However, according to the summary judgement motion, WADA has not changed its stance or clarified anything for years. Moreover, when Finchem was questioned about WADA procedures and misleading public statements, Finchem exited the deposition without offering answers.

Following the eventual ruling on the motions for summary judgement, the next step will be an attempt to settle by using a mediator in voluntary, non-binding dispute resolution. An important factor that may pressure the PGA Tour to settle is the lift in confidentiality; the PGA Tour may want to prevent the release of documents that they had thought would stay sealed. However, if this fails, the case will go to a jury.

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