The first hearing in the lawsuit filed by ten NFL players against the league alleging anti-trust law violations began in Minneapolis on April 6. After listening to testimony from both sides the judge in the case stated that she would issue a ruling on issues raised to this point within a few weeks. On April 25 she did issue an order granting the players’ request to end the lockout. The NFL immediately announced that it was appealing the ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The judge did not, however, give any details of how the league is to operate at this point with no agreement in place to guide them.
As the early March deadline for the old agreement to expire approached (after two extensions agreed to by both parties as they conducted last minute mediation sessions) the players de-certified their union as a legal entity. This allowed certain players to file an anti-trust lawsuit. The owners responded within 24 hours and locked the players out of all team facilities.
The group of players then immediately filed suit and asked for an injunction preventing the owners from locking players out of team facilities. The judge indicated that she would rule on this request along with defenses raised by NFL attorneys. In the meantime, she ordered both sides to resume mediation under a mediator that she selected. These sessions began in earnest on April 15 and continue as this is written.
The NFL and its players have been battling over monetary issues for around a half century. Evan Weiner and Heather Rascher co-wrote an unpublished manuscript in 2005 entitled “A Business History of Professional Football”. Mr. Weiner recently used one of his syndicated columns to retrace this history of pro football’s labor wars.
The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) first formed in 1956. Even though it technically does not exist today following the de-certification tactic of the union in March, everyone understands that at some point the owners and the NFLPA leaders will reach an agreement. No one believes that both sides are so filled with anger that they will risk destroying an industry that during the past year grossed some $9 billion.
The potential for a drawn out negotiation process does exist. Indeed in its recently released 2011 season schedule the NFL leaders have built in plans that would allow the regular season to begin 3 weeks late and till have a full season with playoffs and the Super Bowl held on dates previously set.
The history of labor relations between the NFL and its players is something that anyone working in the field of sport administration can gain insights from. The underlying issues are played out every day at all levels of sport. Readers, what do you think the impact of the current anti-trust lawsuit will be on the contract negotiations between the NFL and its players?