SBD/May 16, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 66: Mediation Set To Resume In Minnesota

The NFL is scheduled today to return to the bargaining table in a Minnesota federal courtroom with active and retired players present, but the prospects for those negotiations are fully uncertain. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to make a decision, after two weeks’ time, on whether to lift the lockout or keep it in place, an unexpected delay that many believe could keep the sides apart and make the two scheduled days of mediation, the first since mid-April, unproductive. One source who will be in the talks today said the 8th Circuit uncertainty could essentially scare the two sides into making progress. Others were less sure. The NFL is convinced the players will not compromise until suffering a setback with the 8th Circuit, said SportsCorp President Marc Ganis, whose company has close ties to the NFL and its teams. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to be present for the mediation sessions, along with Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash; outside counsel Bob Batterman; and team owners Jerry Richardson, Art Rooney II, Mike Brown and John Mara. NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith is expected to attend for the players, along with class counsel Jim Quinn and Jeffrey Kessler. Quinn said last Thursday he did not know which of the 10 player plaintiffs would be in attendance. If the NFL is forced by the 8th Circuit to lift the lockout, the league has been analyzing, among many options, shutting down the entire sport in response. While the courts might rule that the league cannot lock out a non-union workforce, the league could up the stakes by essentially locking everyone out, business-side too. Sources who have talked to the NFL about the plans certainly do not describe them as definite but acknowledge that the idea of a complete shutdown has been considered. Many outside the league see this as simply a threat, but the league's strategy all along has been if the players don’t bend early to get the work stoppage into the regular season so game checks are missed (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).

SHOULD FANS EXPECT MUCH? With the sides returning to mediation, labor attorney John Hancock Jr. said, "I think you'll see some serious negotiations. The time to try to negotiate is when both sides still have a chance before either side gets some major leverage." On Long Island, Bob Glauber noted that leverage "could come in the next few weeks because the NFL's appeal of an injunction to lift the lockout will be heard" by the 8th Circuit Court on June 3. If the league "wins the appeal, the lockout is likely to continue for several more weeks or perhaps months," but if the players win, the NFL "will resume operations, likely by July." Smith on Friday said, "Right now, (the players) don't want to lay down and be forced to take a deal. They don't believe that it's fair. I can tell you that they resent being lied to. They resent being tricked. They resent the fact that the league has been found now twice to have violated the law" (NEWSDAY, 5/15). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman noted "no one among the ownership or players thinks it will produce anything other than billable hours and frequent-traveler miles." Freeman: "Neither side believes in it. Neither side wants to do it. ... Mediation in July or August might work. Mediation now won't" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/15). Meanwhile, Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy on Saturday said that he "doesn’t expect the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on the stay of the NFL lockout before the June 3 full appeals hearing on the legality of the lockout." Murphy: "It looks like the stay, no pun intended, will stay in place until June 3. We’ll see. The mediation, we’re hopeful that we can move things along, but we’ll see with that. I think, particularly the players, are pursuing litigation strategy" (GREENBAYPRESSGAZETTE.com, 5/14).

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: In Boston, Karen Guregian reports Patriots Owner Robert Kraft "threw down the gauntlet for the owners and players currently locked in a labor dispute." Kraft said the league and players need to "stop suing one another and get down to business." He added, "The problem can be solved. I really believe that. We’re blessed to have one of the greatest sports businesses in the world right here in America. And one of my concerns is that we not aggravate our fans base, because they don’t really understand, and they don’t want to understand whether it’s the owners, (or) the players (at fault). They just want to have football." Kraft indicated that he would not attend the mediation "unless called in" by Goodell. Guregian notes Kraft again "preached about taking the lawyers out of the equation and how a deal wouldn’t be struck until that happened." He said, "If we can sit down as principals, I believe we can do a deal very quickly. I really believe that. No one wins when you have litigation, even the side that comes out victorious. It’s injurious to the business. So I’d like to get it out of the courts, and get it to the business table, and get it rolling." Patriots S Patrick Chung said, "It sucks, but we have to do what we have to do. Mr. Kraft and the organization is doing what they have to do, and we’re doing what we have to do. We’ll be ready" (BOSTON HERALD, 5/16). More Kraft: "People with a vested interest in the game and growing the game should be the people dealing with how to solve the problem of our current dispute" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/16).

Wilson was one of the few dissenting voices
when owners pushed through CBA in '06
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: In N.Y., Gary Myers noted Mike Brown and Bills Owner Ralph Wilson "went against the majority in 2006 on a deal that now looks like a huge mistake for the rest of the NFL owners." Two years into that CBA, "the 30 owners who disagreed with Wilson and Brown suddenly realized they were the ones who made a huge mistake." If the other owners had listened to Wilson, "this might have been settled a long time ago." Wilson last week said, "I came into this game 50 years ago because I enjoyed the game of pro football. Not to make money. In those days, everybody was hoping to break even. We lost money for a number of years. I am really not into the game to make money, but I would like to break even or make a little." Wilson has not been involved in any of the current CBA negotiations, but he said, "I hope the sides come to an agreement. I hope they can. I miss football like millions of other people" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/15).

CALLING AN AUDIBLE: In N.Y., Judy Battista noted when the 8th Circuit Court gave the NFL a "temporary stay of the injunction during the second round of the draft, the league told teams to close their doors immediately, a move that perplexed some agents and team executives who wondered why it did not allow a limited free-agency period for undrafted players to be signed before shutting down." That move "might have had its desired effect, though." Some agents have "started grumbling that the interests of lower-tier players are not being well-represented by the lawyers and leaders of the now-decertified union, who are spearheading an antitrust lawsuit against the league" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/15).

RETIRED PLAYERS MEET: A group of retired NFL players met in Minnesota yesterday to support the class action lawsuit filed against the NFL by Carl Eller and three other retirees. Eller’s case is folded into the case brought by active players against the NFL. The retiree meeting and statement was orchestrated by Eller’s lawyer, Michael Hausfeld. Signees to the statement include Nolan Harrison, Senior Director of Former Player Affairs at NFLPA; Jeff Nixon, a frequent retiree critic of the NFLPA; Tony Davis, a chapter head of the NFL Alumni, which is backed by the NFL financially; and Dave Pear, who has railed against the NFL and NFLPA for their disability policies. A statement put out by Hausfeld also said that Mike Ditka also supports the group. Hausfeld said the statement would be followed up by a campaign to bring the plight of the retirees’ attention. He described the statement as representing the largest collection of retirees groups ever. The retiree community has often been split among different groups with varying agendas (Kaplan).

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