April 18, 2024

N.F.L. in Limbo as Owners Try to Preserve Lockout

If the stay is not granted by Nelson or the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the N.F.L. will have to put rules in place that would allow players to return to work and free agency to open within days.

If a stay is granted, the N.F.L. will remain dormant while owners appeal Nelson’s decision. That would probably keep the league shut down until at least mid-June and perhaps into early July, about a month before teams usually open training camps.

A final decision on the stay is likely to take no more than several days.

Late Monday night, e-mails were circulating among players  encouraging them to report to team facilities on Tuesday and informing them that if there is no stay, it would be a violation of Nelson’s ruling for them to be turned way.

It was unclear how many players would show up at team facilities. Ryan Clark, the player representative for the Pittsburgh Steelers, said in a text message Monday night that he was advising his teammates to report for work at the Steelers’ facilities Tuesday.

But team officials will probably be unable to have contact with players if they do show up.

Jim Quinn, who argued the players’ case before Nelson, said Monday night that teams were theoretically allowed to sign free agents now, but that players had to give the N.F.L. time to let the dust settle. If it takes too long to begin signing players without a stay in place, owners could be subject to collusion charges, he said.

One agent, Brad Blank, said Monday night that he had contacted several of his clients and told them that they should contact their player representatives and be prepared to report to their teams’ off-season training programs.

One legal analyst, Gabe Feldman of Tulane Law School, who has done work for NFL Network, said the league had to be given time to reopen business, adding that if players show up, they could be told that while they are no longer being locked out, owners need more time to get up and running.

In a telephone interview, Quinn said: “It’s one more loss in a long line of losses in court for them. From the players’ perspective, it wasn’t at all unexpected. It was a very well-reasoned decision. Therefore, we think it is upheld on appeal.”

In its filing to seek a stay, the N.F.L. said it could be subjected to further antitrust charges by players and it would be impossible to “unscramble the eggs” if business were to reopen, only to have the appeals court reinstate the lockout. It also said that by enjoining the lockout, the district court created new law on three issues that the Court of Appeals will review. 

“We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes,” the league said in a statement. “We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree.”

That premise, contained in the Norris-LaGuardia Act, was rejected by Nelson in her 89-page decision, in which she wrote that she did not believe the act applied to the N.F.L.’s dispute with players because the union has disbanded. She accepted that the union’s decertification, which the league contended was merely a negotiating ploy, was valid. She wrote that she had discretion to decide whether to cede jurisdiction to the National Labor Relations Board. The league filed a charge with the N.L.R.B. in February that the union had not negotiated in good faith and that its decertification was a sham, intended only as a bargaining tactic.

Nelson also wrote that players were already suffering the threat of irreparable harm from the lockout even though no games have been missed. She pointed especially to free agents like Peyton Manning and Logan Mankins, making the case that they are suffering because a lockout prevents them from negotiating with teams. Finally, Nelson said that the public interest, fans, does not favor a lockout.

“The public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, ranging from broadcast revenues down to concession sales,” Nelson wrote. “And of course the public interest represented by the fans of professional football — who have a strong investment in the 2011 season — is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout. In short, this particular employment dispute is far from a purely private argument over compensation.”

Nelson’s decision did not come as a surprise to either the players or the league after she made several comments from the bench during a hearing earlier this month that indicated some of her opinions. Now the N.F.L. will cast its lot with the Court of Appeals.

The N.F.L. has long thought it has a better chance for success at the appeals court level than at the district court. But legal experts are divided.

William Gould, a former chairman of the N.L.R.B., said in a telephone interview Monday night that the Eighth Circuit was the league’s best chance because he regards it as a very conservative court that is particularly management-friendly.

“They couldn’t have a better court in the country, the owners,” Gould said. “Even when I was chairman of the N.L.R.B., this was one of the most unreceptive courts for any order aimed at an employer.”

If the appeals court upholds the injunction, the league will be forced to open its doors for the first time since the lockout began March 12. That would give players considerable leverage over owners in negotiations to settle the antitrust litigation in which the sides have been engaged since talks broke off and the players union decertified.

But if the appeals court overturns Nelson’s decision, the lockout will be back in place, and players will lose much of their leverage. With players facing the prospect of missing paychecks when the season starts — most players are not losing money yet — the lawyers for the players would be under pressure to reach a settlement that would let the players return to work and the season to begin.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=da2b4ce3564b88e50ae44c1816c21596

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