Judge orders end to NFL lockout

League begins appeal process

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / April 26, 2011

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The NFL Players Association scored a touchdown yesterday when US District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson granted its request for a preliminary injunction to stop the lockout put in place by league owners in March.

Now the league is hoping the replay booth official will call for a review.

The NFL immediately filed its notice of appeal with Nelson’s court last night.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told ESPN that he spoke to many of the lead plaintiffs in Brady, Eller v. NFL, including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

“Those guys are just thrilled that football is back on,’’ Smith said. “And I think once in a while we should just take a deep breath and take things for what they are.

“I’m happy for our players and for our fans. Today, those who love football are winners.’’

The NFL is expected to ask for a stay, or a delay in the implementation, of the ruling in Nelson’s court today because of the chaos it will cause — and already has started.

Immediately after the ruling was handed down, some players and agents across the league were stating their intention to show up at team facilities.

The intention would be to be there to earn any offseason workout bonuses that are written into their contract.

But the NFL, which was holding a conference call last night to update team officials, said it is not open for business yet.

“We do not intend to start the league year until we have had an opportunity to seek a stay,’’ league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Even NFLPA outside counsel Jim Quinn told USA Today that the NFL has at least some time to construct rules before the players can report.

“By law, we have to give it a day or so to let the dust settle and see if a stay gets in place and then we’ll decide what happens next,’’ Quinn said.

And most NFL players, including those on the Patriots, likely will wait to see what happens in the next few days before making their next move.

If Nelson declines to stay her ruling, the NFL will ask the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to do so.

The NFL is hoping the 8th Circuit — known as one of the most conservative and pro-business in the country, with eight of 11 judges appointed by President Ronald Reagan — will be more sympathetic to its arguments.

If the appellate court declines to issue a stay, then the NFL would have no choice but to open its doors to players and proceed with the 2011 season with rules it deems fair.

Those rules, including for free agency, could be unacceptable for the players and could touch off another legal battle.

In Nelson’s carefully worded 89-page decision, she methodically dismissed all of the NFL’s major arguments against the injunction: jurisdiction; that the union did not truly decertify; that courts can’t intercede in labor conflicts; and that the non-statutory labor exemption still continued past the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.

She also left no doubt that fans were very much at the forefront of this battle.

“The public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, as professional football involves many layers of tangible economic impact, ranging from broadcast revenues down to concessions 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.’’

New York Giants end Osi Umenyiora said, “Today’s ruling is a win for the players and for the fans that want to see a full NFL season in 2011. The lockout is bad for everyone and players will continue to fight it. We hope that this will bring us one step closer to playing the game we love.’’

The NFL, in a statement, continued to push for CBA negotiations.

“We will promptly seek a stay from Judge Nelson pending an expedited appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals,’’ the statement read. “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.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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