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Vijay Singh sues PGA Tour for ruining his reputation in wake of doping sanctions, exoneration

Vijay Singh brings the PGA Tour to court for causing him humiliation, shame, ridicule, scorn and emotionally distress.

David Cannon

Vijay Singh has sued the PGA Tour for tarnishing his reputation over his admitted use of deer antler spray.

Tour officials sanctioned Singh for ingesting a compound that appeared to include a banned substance and then exonerated him after the World Anti-Doping Agency deemed the ingredient to be okay. Singh charged the Tour, in a suit filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on Wednesday with “violating its duty of care and good faith,” according to a statement from attorney Peter Ginsberg. As Steve DiMeglio notes, Ginsberg is the same attorney who represented Jonathan Vilma in the Saints bounty case.

Tour officials, from whom Singh seeks unspecified monetary damages for its “reckless administration and implementation of its Anti-Doping Program,” according to the lawsuit, had no comment. The lawsuit must have caught commissioner Tim Finchem off guard, since he said during a Tuesday press conference ahead of this week’s Players Championship that he was “not so sure [Vijay] has anything to say” about how the doping charges played out.

“I haven’t spoken to him about it,” Finchem said.

More important than any financial remuneration, according to another of Singh’s attorney, Jeffrey Rosenblum, was the damage to the player’s good name.

“We filed the lawsuit to restore Vijay Singh’s reputation and to hold the PGA Tour responsible for what we believe were irresponsible actions they took in prematurely, unfairly accusing him of violating the program,” Rosenblum told SBNation.

“It’s not about money, it’s about restoring his reputation and holding the Tour responsible,” said Rosenblum. “We’re hoping they’ll acknowledge that Vijay Singh did absolutely nothing wrong, he should not have been accused, the violation should not have been asserted, and they’ll accept responsibility for what they did and improve in the future.”

The lawsuit stated that, “as a result of the harassment [from the media, some fellow golfers, and fans] -- and the PGA Tour’s wrongdoing -- Singh’s professional career has been compromised,” stated the lawsuit. “Faced with an unjust blemish on his personal and professional record, Singh struggled to keep his focus and play at the level that has made him one of the game’s all-time greats. The PGA Tour did nothing to rectify its flawed investigation and specious proposed discipline.”

Singh’s suit took the Tour to task for its failure to conduct “basic testing and research” to determine that the product he used “contained no active biological ingredient and could not possibly have provided any performance enhancement,” according to Ginsberg’s statement.

Instead of performing due diligence and putting “golfers first,” Ginsberg claimed that the Tour “rushed to judgment and accused one of the world’s hardest working and most dedicated golfers of violating the rules of the game.”

Singh noted in the same statement, “I am proud of my achievements, my work ethic, and the way I live my life. 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.”

By relying on WADA assessments of substances and any performance-enhancing effects they may provide, the Tour, according to the lawsuit, “attempts to avoid, and otherwise shirks, all responsibility with regard to prohibitions imposed upon its members.” The Tour’s refusal to conduct its own independent analyses meant it “lacks the knowledge, skill and sophistication to determine whether it is appropriate to ban particular substances and is otherwise incapable of administering the Anti-Doping Program.”

Singh, the lawsuit noted, “has passed every drug and substance test” the Tour has administered under its drug program.

The suit also pointed out that after Singh’s caddie, Tony Shepherd, suggested he try the deer extract “to address knee and back problems,” the golfer ensured himself that the product was legal by comparing its ingredients to those on the tour’s banned-substance list.

The suit detailed the steps that Singh and the Tour took after the three-time major winner admitted in a Sports Illustrated article that he had used the product. One of those steps involved the Tour sending Singh’s bottle of the spray to the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, which “wholly failed to provide any analysis that Singh had used a banned substance.”

Despite such a finding, the Tour’s anti-doping program administrator, in a letter dated Feb. 14, 2013, informed Singh he had violated the organization’s anti-doping rules. Singh supplied a written explanation within the required seven days, after which Tour officials told him in a February 19 letter, that he was in breach of program rules and was prohibited from participating in PGA or Web.com Tour tourneys for 90 days, beginning retroactively with February’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and concluding on May 11, 2013.

Singh appealed the sanctions, after which the Tour informed him, on February 26, that he would be allowed to play pending the appeal but that his prize money ($99,980 in total) would be held in escrow until the process ran its course. The Tour’s warning that Singh risked forfeiting his earnings “if he exercised his right to appeal and did not prevail,” the lawsuit said, “would effectively punish Singh for exercising his right to challenge the discipline imposed by risking lost earnings plus suspension.”

The Tour had never disciplined any golfer in such a way before, the lawsuit charged, pointing to officials telling Mark Calcavecchia in 2011 to stop using the same spray.

“The PGA Tour is aware of other golfers who have used the spray but has not attempted to discipline those other golfers,” according to the suit, which also charged that, after learning from WADA that the spray was no longer a banned substance, the Tour kept the information from Singh for several days.

The bottom line for Singh, was restoration of his integrity.

“The PGA Tour acted in an outrageous and extreme manner. As a direct and proximate result of the PGA Tour’s actions, Singh has been humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught,” said the lawsuit. “The conduct of the PGA Tour demonstrated the intent to cause, or disregard of a substantial probability of causing, Singh severe emotional distress.”

As Rosenblum conceded, however, Finchem et al may never acknowledge any wrongdoing.

“The courts can’t make a defendant publicly apologize,” Rosenblum said. “We think that would be appropriate -- just a full acknowledgment that Vijay Singh did nothing wrong.”

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