Vijay Singh sued the PGA Tour on May 8, a week after his doping case was dropped by the PGA Tour. The suit claims the actions of Tour executives damaged his reputation by not doing a thorough job of researching his use of deer antler spray. The complaint argues that the resulting publicity has caused emotional and economic harm to Singh.
“I am proud of my achievement, my work ethic and the way I live my life,” Singh said in a statement. “The PGA Tour not only treated me unfairly, but displayed a lack of professionalism that should concern every professional golfer and fan of the game.”
The lawsuit was filed on the eve of the Tour Players Championship, which is the marquee event of the year for the players. There were some players who were upset at the timing of the lawsuit.
“Everyone should be on the same page here, shouldn’t they,” asked Geoff Ogilvy, a member of the player advisory council. “The Tour is the players, technically. We’re all in this together aren’t we?”
Many people have pointed out that the management of the PGA Tour was not involved in any actual testing. That is the province of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Singh admitted in a January Sports Illustrated interview that he had used deer antler spray. When the news came out Tour officials sent a small drug sample taken from Singh at an earlier tournament off to the WADA testing labs. The test results were positive for IFG-1, an insulin-like growth hormone.
When Tour officials received the test results Commissioner Tim Finchem notified Singh on Feb. 19 that he would face a 90-day suspension. Singh appealed. During this time WADA officials contacted Finchem to notify him that WADA had dropped deer antler spray from its list of banned substances because it contained very low amounts of IFG-1. At the end of April, Finchem notified Singh that the Tour was dropping its case against him based on this new information.
The lawsuit said the tour relied on WADA’s list of banned substances and methods without doing any of its own research, including whether such substances even provide any performance-enhancing benefits. The lawsuit also alleges that the Tour held over $99,000 of Singh’s winnings in escrow before dropping its case.
Tour members are divided in their opinions. Some believe that the Commissioner may have acted too hastily without doing some due diligence. Others believe that Singh is relying on a technicality and that he in fact used a substance that could have given him an advantage over his rivals.
Singh has made over $67 million on the PGA Tour, which he joined in 1993. He once was banned by the Asian Tour in 1985 for allegations that he changed his score to make the cut. Singh recovered from that incident to earn his card on the European Tour, and then brought his game to America, where he reached No. 1 in the world. Among his 24 tour victories in his career he counts one Master’s title and one PGA Championship trophy.
Singh’s current caddie, Tony Shepherd, recommended that he try a product called “The Ultimate Spray” in the offseason to deal with knee and back problems. Singh met with Mitch Ross, owner of a company called Sports with Alternatives to Steroids. Ross recommended the product and told Singh that it contained no banned substances. He took the substance for about a month, according the lawsuit complaint.
Speaking to reporters in North Carolina when he announced that the action against Singh was being dropped, “Vijay wasn’t assessed this action because he was negligent. He wasn’t assessed it because he made a mistake. He was assessed it because he violated the doping code, and the doping code is predicated on a list of substances. And we’re now finding from WADA that that substance doesn’t trigger a positive test to admission, so we have to respect that.”
And so the dance goes on. Whether or not Vijay Singh did or did not gain some kind of competitive advantage from using the substance, he has benefited from what can fairly be considered to be a technicality. Whether or not he can win his lawsuit is another matter.
Singh is a public figure. As such, case law is well established that to win in a defamation case a public figure must not only show that information published about him or her was false, but that the entity that published the information had good reason to believe it might be false, and published it anyway. The “malice aforethought” standard has been precedent in this area for more than 50 years.
Perhaps everyone would be better off if Singh took his $99,000 in winnings, dropped his lawsuit following a formal apology from Tim Finchem, and moved on with his career. The problem is that in legal matters, logic frequently goes out the door. Stay tuned.
To read more on this subject go to http://www.golf.com/ap-news/singh-suing-pga-over-proposed-suspension#ixzz2SpNSkdGW.
Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.