U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson yesterday told NFL players and the league that she "will need 'a couple of weeks' before she can rule on the players' request to lift the lockout imposed by owners, and urged them to resume negotiations in the meantime," according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. Nelson: "It seems to me both sides are at risk and this is a very good time for you to come back to the table." Talks between the two sides "have been on hold since negotiations collapsed March 11, the day before the lockout began," and it "appears unlikely the league and players will meet again soon because they cannot agree to the terms by which the talks would resume." Yesterday's hearing began just after 10:30am ET and "lasted into the late afternoon." NFL outside counsel David Boies "spoke for nearly three hours in all and was questioned vigorously at times by Nelson on a variety of legal points made by the league." NFLPA outside counsel James Quinn "presented the players' arguments during the hearing," and Nelson "scrutinized his arguments less closely." Nelson "seemed to indicate during the hearing that she thought the players' decertification of the union was valid." She said to Boies, "They can do it, right? They can do it." She also "suggested she had the discretion to decide whether to wait" for the National Labor Relations Board to rule on decertification or "move forward herself." Maske notes Nelson's decision on the lockout is "likely to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit by the losing side" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/7). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell reports Nelson is "considering holding an evidentiary hearing, perhaps next week, before ruling." Quinn and Michael Hausfeld, who argued on behalf of retired players, "don't think another hearing is needed." Boies said that he "would welcome such a procedure" (USA TODAY, 4/7). USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale writes the two sides "appeared leery of a quick settlement." They "couldn't even agree on an interpretation of Nelson's suggestion, unsure of whether she was encouraging them to undergo federal mediation or resume negotiations" on a CBA (USA TODAY, 4/7).
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Nelson offered to aid and "facilitate suggestions" for resolution, a message to get it done before she weighed in with her injunction decision. Her suggestion to use the auspices of her court seemed to be a mini-victory for the players. Returning to St. Paul soon to use Nelson's chambers as a venue for resolving the matter seemed to the players, on the face of it, like a good idea. "It's something we'll consider," Quinn told reporters outside the courthouse afterward. "We heard what the judge said, and she said it forcefully." But for the owners, putting their future in the hands of Nelson was not so appealing. "We believe these kind of matters ought to be settled at the collective bargaining table, not in federal court," said Boies, who gently sparred with Nelson through three separate sessions in which she allowed him great latitude to attempt to convince her that the league's lockout was legal. Meanwhile, NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello last night in N.Y. said, "We have said since March 11 that we were prepared to return to mediation immediately." But when pressed about using Nelson's court instead, Aiello said in an e-mail, "We're not going to elaborate tonight" (Jay Weiner, THE DAILY).
TIME TO TALK? In N.Y., Judy Battista reports the players last night "were considering sending a letter to the league, offering to meet to conduct litigation settlement talks with a mediator." But "further talks before Nelson makes a decision seem unlikely." The NFL "wants only to engage in collective bargaining with the help of the federal mediator" in DC. The league "believes the decertification of the union is illegitimate and does not want to negotiate a litigation settlement that would leave it with another agreement overseen by the federal courts." The players "insist they will not go back to being a union, but say they are ready to engage in talks to reach a litigation settlement under the Minnesota court's purview" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/7). NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler after the hearing said that he "will participate in mediation talks only as settlement discussions to the players' antitrust lawsuit against the league" (L.A. TIMES, 4/7).
JUDGE IN CONTROL: In Boston, Greg Bedard notes NFL attorneys yesterday "maintained that the decertification was merely a tactic by the players and that it shouldn't be valid," but Nelson "didn't seem to buy that" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/7). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch reports Nelson "seemed to mock Boies for trying to use a Depression-era labor statute called the Norris-La Guardia Act -- originally designed to protect workers from employers -- against the players." Nelson: "Isn't there some bit of irony that the Norris-La Guardia Act, which is designed to protect employees from strike-bearing federal judges, should now be used to prevent an injunction of a wealthy, multi-employer unit seeking to break players?" (N.Y. POST, 4/7). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote if there was "one winner in the latest round of cat-fighting between the NFL and its players" it was Nelson, "who came into these proceedings as something of a rookie in the grand scheme and left with the respect of almost everyone involved." Nelson "showed a deep grasp of the issues and history that have defined the past 30 years of NFL labor decisions" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/6).
OWNERS INFLUENCED BY NELSON? CBSSPORTS.com’s Mike Freeman cites sources as saying that the NFL and the players “could actually begin negotiating again as early as this week.” The sources said that some owners “are slightly fidgety about what happened” at yesterday’s hearing, as Nelson “seemed to query the lawyer for the owners more extensively than the legal representation for the players.” However, Freeman cites other league sources that are “strongly denying this.” Those sources “insisted owners would never meet with players until the now decertified union reconstituted itself” (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/7).
plaintiffs present at yesterday's hearing
MISSING IN ACTION: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez writes Patriots QB Tom Brady and Colts QB Peyton Manning, who are among the plaintiffs on the lawsuit, did not have "valid reasons for skipping Wednesday's preliminary hearing." The players' absences "raises questions about why they agreed to participate in the first place." If Brady and Manning "weren't going to champion the NFLPA's cause as loudly as they bark signals, the now-decertified union should have courted other stars" for the lawsuit. Quinn was asked why only five of the 10 named plaintiffs were in St. Paul yesterday, and he replied, "I guess some of them had other things they had to do and be in different places." Marvez writes, "Not to say that having Brady and Manning in attendance would have swayed Nelson into immediately ordering the lockout lifted. But it definitely wouldn't have hurt" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/7).
PUBLIC OPINION: In exclusive studies conducted for SportsBusiness Daily/Journal, data showed that NFL fans under the age of 30 are more likely than fans 31+ to blame team owners for the league's current labor dispute. Poll data also showed that most NFL fans felt the CBA dispute would be resolved and there would be no impact on the '11 NFL season (THE DAILY).