NFL, players prepare for court


Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS

The NFL lockout is about to head to court.

With the lockout at three weeks and no end in sight, attorneys for the NFL and its locked-out players will go before a federal judge today in the first round of their fight over the future of the $9 billion business — including the 2011 season.

The players — with stars like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees among the plaintiffs and retirees and yet-to-play rookies joining them in support — are asking for an immediate end to the lockout on the basis of “irreparable harm” to their careers. The injunction request accompanies the antitrust lawsuit filed against the league after labor talks broke down on March 11.

The league says it has the right to keep players from working and says the court must wait until the National Labor Relations Board rules on its claim that the players didn’t negotiate in good faith.

The fight is complicated and perhaps uninteresting to the average football plan in early April when the scheduled start of the season is still five months away. But the fate of everyone’s favorite team hangs in the balance.

“Even though football is enjoying this unprecedented popularity ... nothing is invulnerable,” said David Allen Larson, a professor of labor and employment law at Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., where U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson will hold the hearing.

The first work stoppage in the NFL since the 1987 strike — and the first in any major U.S sports league since the NHL’s lost 2004-05 season — has developed into one of the all-time nasty disputes in sports. The players balked at more financial concessions when the owners wouldn’t open their books, and the owners insist the decertification of the union is a sham cooked up only to apply leverage in the fight.

Now, they don’t even agree on which laws apply to the case, with the owners arguing for labor law and the players preferring antitrust rules.

Nelson isn’t likely to rule on the injunction request today. She could side with the players and grant the injunction, putting pro football back in business. Or she could side with the owners and either deny the injunction or wait to decide until the NLRB rules on the league’s contention that decertification was an improper bargaining ploy.

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