National Football League lawyers are asking a U.S. appeals court today to reverse a lower judge’s order directing them to end their player lockout.
Team owners blocked player access to coaching staffs, trainers and practice facilities on March 12 after collective bargaining talks collapsed. Players disavowed their union and sued the NFL for allegedly violating U.S. antitrust laws.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul, Minn., ordered an end to the lockout on April 25, saying it would probably cause the players irreparable harm. The NFL won a temporary stay of Nelson’s order and is asking a three-judge appellate panel in St. Louis to overturn it.
“The public interest is not served by placing the injunctive thumb of an antitrust court on negotiations over terms and conditions of employment,” the owners argued in a May 26 court filing.
The 32-team league, based in New York, is the richest U.S. pro sports league with annual revenue of about $9 billion. Players and owners dispute how to divide that money. They also disagree over a rookie salary cap, expanding the regular season to 18 games from 16 and health care.
Ten players, led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, sued the NFL on March 11 alleging that league owners engage in anticompetitive practices.
Players and team owners held talks during the lawsuit, mediated by U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan in Minneapolis, with the last publicly announced discussions on May 17. In a joint statement yesterday, the parties said they had been meeting confidentially with Boylan. They declined to reveal any additional details.
Those meetings, which involved Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New York Giants owner John Mara and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, took place over three days at a site near Chicago, according to an Associated Press report, citing sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were secret.
In the appeal, players associations from the top U.S. baseball, basketball and hockey leagues filed a brief supporting the football players.
“The sound application of the antitrust laws in markets for professional athletes’ services is critical in all major sports leagues,” the associations said in a May 20 filing.
National Hockey League owners submitted a brief backing the NFL owners, asserting that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, antitrust laws shouldn’t be used to interfere with the collective bargaining process.
NFL attorneys have argued that the players’ decision to disband their union was a ploy to enable them to abandon negotiations in favor of antitrust litigation, and that the dispute should be resolved under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board.
The players say talks failed before they disavowed the union, leaving them no other recourse. Both sides are exempt from federal antitrust laws as long as they are engaged in collective bargaining.
The lower court case is Brady v. National Football League, 11-cv-639, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (St. Paul). The appellate case is Brady v. National Football League, 11-1898, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (St. Louis).
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