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Volume 24 No. 113

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The NHL last night filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the NFL at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, contending that a lower court’s decision to enjoin the football lockout would impair collective bargaining by allowing unions to decertify at the drop of hat and sue for antitrust violations. The filing came on the heels of the NFL’s first brief in its appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson’s decision to end the lockout, which is still in effect because of a temporary stay issued by the appeals court. The NFL argued that Nelson should have deferred to the NLRB, and the NFLPA’s decertification, or disclaimer, was not valid. By decertifying, the players were under labor law then allowed to sue for antitrust violations. The league also took some pointed shots at Nelson. The league has argued that because a federal labor law forbids courts from ruling on cases that are, or grow out of labor disputes, Nelson did not have jurisdiction. She rejected that interpretation, writing the league has tried to put a “temporal gloss” on the term labor dispute. In response, the NFL in its brief quoted the definition of “grow out of” from Random House Dictionary. The NFL also said of Nelson, “In the face of clear Supreme Court precedent, the District Court had no license to adopt its idiosyncratic interpretation of the Act.” The response from the players is due May 20, and the NFL will reply to that response shortly after. The appeals court, which has yet to rule on a permanent stay, has set June 3 oral arguments.

ON YOUR SIDE: The NHL famously locked out its players in ‘04-05, and next year could face a similar labor crisis. So it does not want to see unions allowed to decertify and sue for antitrust violations. The NBA is facing a lockout this summer. The league could not immediately be reached for comment on whether it too would file an amicus brief (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir for External Affairs George Atallah pointed out on Twitter last night the "irony of the NHL’s involvement in this matter, given that NFL labor counsel Bob Batterman engineered a lockout that once wiped out a full season of pro hockey." But PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio noted Batterman's firm "didn't submit the brief." Rather, it was drafted by Shepard Goldfein, James Keyte, and Elliot Silver of Skadden Aarps Slate Meagher & Floam’s N.Y. office. Still, it is "entirely possible that Batterman encouraged the NHL to speak up in support of the NFL, before the NHL [ends up] facing a similar problem" (, 5/9).

INSIDE THE NFL'S CASE: In its legal arguments filed yesterday, the NFL "again noted that players would have claims for triple damages if they win their lawsuit alleging antitrust violations by the league." The NFL said, "Such damages would be more than adequate to remedy any possible harm caused by the lockout" (USA TODAY, 5/10). The NFL also argued that "lifting the lockout without a labor deal in place would cause chaos, with teams trying to make decisions on signing free agents and making trades under a set of rules that could drastically change under a new agreement." The league said Judge Nelson "failed entirely to consider the serious, immediate and irreparable harm the injunction posed to the NFL" and "vastly overstated both the harm to the (players) and the nature of that harm." Additionally, the NFL contends that the players "don't suffer because the lockout applies equally to everyone" (, 5/9). The brief "uses players’ own words against them; some have said they were enjoying the absence of off-season workouts" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/10).

Roger Goodell yesterday called a Colts blogger who had complained about the NFL commissioner’s conference call with Colts ticket holders last week, and the two had a “one-on-one phone chat," according to Paul Kuharsky of Blogger Nate Dunlevy, who lives and works in Argentina, said he and Goodell spoke for “roughly ten minutes.” Dunlevy on his blog recounts, “I found Mr. Goodell to be patient, straightforward and direct. He directly challenged some of my assertions with fact claims that I simply could not verify in the moment. He presented himself in a calm, caring, and concerned way.” Dunlevy asked questions “about the league's TV deals and court losses and wanted to know if the commissioner had any regrets about the way the NFL has handled things during the labor impasse." He noted that the correspondence with Goodell started last Friday, when NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy "got his information" (, 5/9).'s Kuharsky wrote Goodell "deserves credit for his accessibility." It is an "easy conversation to avoid, but it’s a smart one to take on and while it creates beneficial PR, I feel sure it’s not strictly about PR." Kuharsky: "Good times or bad, the fact that he’s willing to connect with fans rather than sit in an Ivory Tower is a good thing" (, 5/9).

PICKING ON THE WRONG GUY?'s Pete Prisco wrote, "Why has Roger Goodell become enemy No. 1? Why do fans boo him during draft night? Why do players rip him constantly, sometimes maliciously? I just don't get it." Goodell works for the owners, so "any venom directed at him is misguided." Goodell "has influence, but he doesn't have a vote." Prisco: "We haven't heard one venomous thing slung in the direction of an owner by a named player or not. It's Goodell this, Goodell that. ... I just wish I understood the nastiness coming at him since he is nothing more than a point man for the 32 men who truly are on the opposite side of the players" (, 5/9).'s Peter King wrote, "I remember similar anger directed at Pete Rozelle in 1987, the last time games were lost in NFL history due to a job action. There will be more, and when there's a solution, it'll go away. That's labor strife, anywhere, in any walk of life" (, 5/9).

The NFL said that it "is 'taking seriously' allegations that there's been contact between assistant coaches and players during the lockout and will launch an inquiry to determine if there has been any wrongdoing," according to Clark Judge of NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said that so far there have been "unsubstantiated charges of contact between coaches and players, but that there are charges at all piques the NFL's interest." The league has "not found evidence of wrongdoing, but its investigation just began" (, 5/9).'s Mike Freeman noted he "spoke with a half-dozen players and handful of assistant coaches from both conferences" over a two-week period, and the "picture that emerges is one where coaches and players, despite rules against it, stay in almost weekly contact with one another using a variety of technologies." The two sides are "utilizing Skype, e-mail, text-messaging and good, old-fashioned phone calls to update coaches on the progress of group workouts, what players are doing to stay in shape and even personal issues." Several players estimated that 25% of the league's players "are in regular contact with assistant coaches." Freeman noted players "privately acknowledge that by engaging with coaches during the lockout they are in a way undermining their own trade association," but they "don't seem to care." Players also said that "while they see owners as the enemy, they don't view assistant coaches the same way" (, 5/9).

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: NFL Network's Jason La Canfora said, “There are definitely people you talk to -- agents, players -- who will tell you ... that teams have reached out to agents about potential undrafted free agents, that there has been contact between some team officials, player development people or coaches. ... The key really will be how any of this is enforced after the fact. The league has said it will be vigilant in trying to document instances of this and then punish teams because of those actions. But once we do start playing, once we do get a CBA done and we move forward, some are wondering really how vigilant will they ultimately be?” ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 5/9). ESPN's Adam Schefter said to believe there is no contact between coaches and players during the lockout "would be naive and ignorant because teams are trying to do whatever they can to give themselves a competitive advantage." He added, "There are teams out there that I'm sure have what you call 'burn lines,' phones that can't be traced, numbers that they've gotten for this lockout to conduct business as usual" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 5/9).

COME FLY WITH ME: In Atlanta, D. Orlando Ledbetter noted the Falcons today "will open their unofficial minicamp" at an undisclosed site. The players "will hold their own seven-on-seven drills." The camp is "closed to the public" (, 5/9). When asked how the workouts have been going in the "ad-hoc offseason program," Falcons DE Kroy Biermann said, "It's been good. We are starting to get some more guys in. When we first started there were three or four guys here in one session. Now, we have two sessions and they are filled up" (, 5/10).

The AP's Ronald Blum reported MLS' average player salary rose 12% this season, from $138,169 to $154,852. The average player salary in '09 was $147,345. Galaxy MF David Beckham "remains the league's highest-paid player" at $6.5M, followed by Red Bulls F Thierry Henry ($5.6M) and MF Rafael Marquez ($4.6M), both new to MLS last season. Galaxy F Landon Donovan is the highest-paid U.S. player at $2.3M (AP, 5/9).

WE'VE GOT YOU COVERED: UFC co-Chair & CEO Lorenzo Fertitta yesterday announced a "new insurance plan for the organization that will cover its roster of nearly 350 fighters." For the first time ever, UFC fighters now will "possess customized accident insurance coverage," meaning UFC "will cover any injuries fighters sustain in training leading up to a bout." In the past, insurance "only provided fighters with care for injuries that occurred on fight night." UFC will pay all the premiums as part of the plan, which is through Houston Casualty and "provides medical, life and dental coverage" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 5/10).

LESS TALKING, MORE PLAYING:'s Buster Olney reported MLB Exec VP/Baseball Operations Joe Torre "has asked club staff members to nudge their players toward curtailing" fraternization with players on opposing teams "after the gates have been opened to fans." What has "rankled some folks in the game has been the gradual increase in on-field conversations when fans are in the park, because they would prefer that the players reinforce the lines of competition." Olney wrote, "Torre's preference might be to curtail the fraternization, but the reality is that MLB can't really make this happen without the cooperation of the players" (, 5/8).