Vijay Singh fights for fellow Tour players, could expand his lawsuit, lawyer says
Vijay Singh was never the Players champion, but now he's trying to be the players' champion, his lawyer says.
Singh, who is suing the PGA Tour over allegations of “disparate treatment” after admitting to using deer antler spray that contained a banned substance in 2013, does not have the support of his fellow golfers according to a recent Sports Illustrated anonymous poll of PGA Tour players. The poll showed that 64 percent of players believe Singh should have been suspended, but Singh's lawyer Peter Ginsberg believes those players will support Singh once they learn more about the case.
"If that's an accurate assessment of how the players feel, I think it's a reflection of the PGA Tour's media and PR machine," Ginsberg said. "If the players come to realize that Vijay is not only fighting for himself but for the players as a whole, and the players become more educated about the machinations of the Tour, I'm quite certain that many more players will rally behind Vijay."
Justice Eileen Bransten of the New York State Supreme Court recently delivered a blow to Singh's case, limiting the scope of discovery to the Tour's policies and penalties for the use of the growth hormone IGF-1, according to documents made public last week. However, Ginsberg suggested that the 34-time Tour winner is considering expanding the scope of his suit despite the ruling.
"Judge Bransten limited our access to a specific area of the [Tour's Anti-Doping] Program," said Ginsberg. "Nonetheless, we've been conducting our own investigation, and we are considering filing new claims against the PGA Tour based on that investigation."
Ginsberg declined to say what those new claims might be or what the investigation has revealed so far, only that "it has become apparent to us that the PGA Tour's administration of the program as a whole is erratic and often irrational."
Singh alleges that he was treated differently from other golfers who ran afoul of the Tour’s drug-testing program after he admitted to using deer antler spray, which contained IGF-1, a banned substance, in a January 2013 Sports Illustrated article. In February, the Tour suspended Singh for 90 days, but Singh appealed the suspension and the Tour dropped its case when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed deer antler spray from its list of prohibited substances because it contained only trace amounts of IGF-1. In a lawsuit filed in May 2013, Singh claims he was "humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and [made] emotionally distraught" by the Tour’s action.
The PGA Tour has declined to comment on the Singh case, citing its policy against commenting on pending litigation.
In the June 12 decision, Bransten granted Singh's requests for documents related to positive tests or disciplinary action taken against any golfer for "the use, alleged use or attempted use" of IGF-1 or deer antler spray, but stopped short of compelling the Tour to hand over information about "any positive tests by any golfer for any substance listed as a banned substance under the Program" as well as "a legislative history" of the creation and adoption of the Tour’s drug-testing program.
Under Judge Bransten's new parameters, Singh and his lawyers must now base their arguments on what is presumably a much smaller pool of golfers connected to deer antler spray or IGF-1, which will make it more difficult for them to establish that he was treated in an arbitrary or capricious way. Mark Calcavecchia, for example, a 13-time Tour winner, endorsed deer antler spray until he was reportedly told to stop using it by the PGA Tour in 2011.
As golf prepares to make its return to the Olympics in 2016, the PGA Tour has come under criticism for the lack of transparency in its anti-doping program. The Tour's official policy is to report anti-doping rules violations to the public if that violation results in a suspension. (Doug Barron’s 2009 suspension for testing positive for testosterone and beta blockers was the only such announcement the Tour had made before the Singh suspension.) However, as SI's Michael Bamberger reported in 2013, discipline is handed out at the sole discretion of commissioner Tim Finchem, so if there's no suspension, there's no announcement. According to Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, Singh's original requests threatened to drag the details of the Tour's opaque drug-testing program into the spotlight, but Bransten’s latest decision denies Singh access to a large portion of that potentially embarrassing information.
"The order makes the case less threatening to the PGA Tour in terms of having to reveal confidential anti-doping policies and practices," McCann told Golf.com. "Consequently, the PGA Tour now has fewer incentives to offer Singh a lucrative settlement to drop his lawsuit."
If Ginsberg was disappointed, however, he didn't show it.
"The ruling means that the logjam is over and the PGA Tour no longer has any excuses not to produce the documents and information we've been seeking for over a year," he said.
Discovery is scheduled to be completed by June 30, 2015, while a trial looms at the end of next year.