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Today, the NFL players will ask a federal judge to grant an injunction blocking the NFL lockout and forcing the league to resume business as usual.What does that mean?
This very day is the reason the NFL Players Association voted to decertify. They believe that by ending their union, the NFL now becomes subject to anti-trust laws, which means they cannot act collectively and cannot impose a lockout.
(Or hold a draft or have a salary cap or drug testing or lots of other things, but that’s another argument for another day.)
WHAT DO THEY WANT?:
The players are asking Judge Susan Nelson, a US District Court judge in Minnesota, to issue a preliminary injunction against the lockout, on the grounds that it violates anti-trust laws and would cause “irreparable harm” to them if it were allowed to continue. (The “irreparable harm” being that the money the players are losing by not being allowed to work can’t earned anywhere else and can’t be earned back even after the lockout ends. Proving that is the key to winning the injunction.)
The NFL will claim that decertification is a “sham” (actual legal term) that demonstrates that the players negotiated the Collective Bargaining Agreement in “bad faith.” Even if the court doesn’t agree with that, the NFL can still argue that the lockout does not cause irreparable harm and that the players will be compensated fairly once the dispute is resolved.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?:
Judge Nelson will hear arguments from both sides today and can then issue a ruling at any time between the end of the hearing and several months from now, although it’s most likely to come within a week. (Our bet is Friday or first thing Monday morning at the latest.)
She can basically do one of three things:
- Grant the injunction immediately, which would end the lockout, begin the free agency period, and allow the players to return to team facilities for workouts, medical care, film, etc. The judge can also award damages and penalties for whatever the players have lost since the lockout began.
- Grant the injunction, with a stay. This means the players win the argument, but the lockout remains in place pending the inevitable appeal. This seems more likely than the first option, as it would maintain the status quo until the legal issues are resolved. (And the real harm doesn’t began until the games are lost.)
- Deny the injunction outright. The players’ larger lawsuit could still go forward, but this would seriously undermine their case and throw all the negotiating leverage to the NFL.
While doing any of those things, Judge Nelson can also order the two parties to resume negotiations or refuse to rule, leaving the “anti-trust or sham” decision up the National labour Relations Board. (In a practical sense, that’s the same as denying the injunction, as the lockout would continue.)
No matter what happens, there will be appeals. They will go to the Circuit Court and could eventually go to the Supreme Court, but they’re unlikely to hear the case unless there is a serious legal question that needs to resolved.
To sum up, this hearing is key to the future of the labour fight … but not the end of it. A win for the players (that holds up on appeal) means there will be football games in the fall, but what rules those games will be played under are anyone’s guess.
A win for the owners could mean dark days ahead. The players will be forced back the negotiating table, but the sides are still too far apart to think the peaceful resolution is in sight.
P.S. Even though Tom Brady is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, he won’t actually be in the courtroom today.