Chad, you can stop your MLS soccer aspirations. Ray Edwards, put down your boxing gloves. Today, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson granted NFL players their motion for a preliminary injunction, therefore lifting the lockout that was imposed by owners on March 12.
The NFL issued a statement: We will promptly seek a stay from Judge Nelson pending an expedited appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals." the statement said. "We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes. We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will inevitably end with a collective bargaining agreement, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs and fans. We can reach a fair agreement only if we continue negotiations toward that goal."
Judge Nelson in her ruling declared the lockout was causing "irreparable harm" to the league and its players, a standard that must be met for any temporary injunction to issue.
It is unclear what the immediate impact of the ruling of the status of over 500 free agent players and other player transaction will be. It is more than likely the NFL's request for stay of NFL players' preliminary injunction will be granted. However, if the 8th Circuit upholds the preliminary injunction, the lockout will indeed be lifted. The NFL also will have to decide whether to impose a similar system that has been in place under the previous collective bargaining agreement that expired on March 11.
The players had asked U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson to immediately halt the lockout at a hearing April 6.
Players including MVP quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning filed an injunction request along with a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NFL shortly before the lockout began March 11.
Nelson ordered additional mediation between the owners and players' association while she considered the request. The sides met four times with U.S. Judge Magistrate Arthur Boylan. It was waltz of useless proportions. As expected, after 16 days of talks in front of a federal mediator in Washington mediation failed.
Nelson proceed to give the sides a break from mediation last week. Both sides were scheduled to reconvene until May 16.
The NFL maneuvered cleverly to include a creative 2011 schedule release last Tuesday. The NFL schedule had regular-season games beginning Sept. 8, but it could still squeeze in 16 games with a three-week delayed start by eliminating bye weeks and the week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.
Executive vice president for football operations Ray Anderson has said it was feasible to play fewer than the normal four preseason games, but general managers and coaches would prefer at least two.
In another ruling expected soon, U.S. District Judge David Doty has a May 12 hearing set on the players' request for damages after he ruled in March that the NFL did not maximize revenues for both sides when it renegotiated $4 billion in TV contracts with the labor dispute looming.
The NFL has also filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union with the National Labor Relations Board. The board could announce in the next four to six weeks whether it will hear the complaint. NFL officials contend that alone would be significant. Eric Grubman, the NFL's executive vice president of finance, said if the board started the process, that would indicate it believed the decertified NFL Players Association was still acting as a union, as the NFL has alleged.
The players' lawsuit was combined with two other similar claims from retirees, former players and rookies-to-be, with Hall of Famer Carl Eller the lead plaintiff in that group.
Executive VP Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead negotiator, has said he felt talks between the league and the retired players were particularly productive, and that the owners remain committed to improving benefits and taking care of their former players.
The league and players disagree sharply on how to divide more than $9 billion in annual revenue.
The owners initially wanted to double the money they get off the top for expenses from about $1 billion to about $2 billion, but that number dropped during the first round of mediation. The players have insisted on full financial disclosure from all 32 teams, and so far the league has not opened the books to their liking.
Other major issues include benefits for retired players and the NFL's desire to stretch the regular season from 16 to 18 games. The NFL also wants to cut almost 60 percent of guaranteed pay for first-round draft picks, lock them in for five years and divert the savings to veterans' salaries and benefits.
More than $525 million went to first-rounders in guaranteed payments in 2010. The league wants to decrease that figure by $300 million, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Exavier B. Pope, Esq. is an entertainment and sports attorney and a blogging legal analyst on sports, entertainment, and business for Chicago Now. Information from the Associated Press and ESPN was used in this report.
(c) 2011 Exavier Pope
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