Each spring, the NFL releases its schedule of games for the
upcoming season and players and fans get busy circling important
dates. So far this year, there’s only one date that matters: April
Tom Rock – Newsday
Each spring, the NFL releases its schedule of games for the upcoming season and players and fans get busy circling important dates. So far this year, there’s only one date that matters: April 6.
That’s when a preliminary hearing is scheduled for the players’ request for an injunction on the owners’ decision to enforce a lockout as of March 12. The players decertified their union March 11 in order to bring their case to court.
No negotiations are expected between the two sides until the hearing.
The hearing is scheduled to take place in front of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minnesota. The players had hoped the case would land in the court of Judge David Doty, who has made rulings in their favor against the NFL in the past. But cases are assigned to judges randomly.
This one first went to Judge Richard Kyle, who recused himself for unspecified reasons, and was reassigned to Judge Patrick Schiltz. On Monday, Schiltz cited a conflict of interest because he represented the NFL in several cases as a private practice attorney. The case then went to Nelson.
Nelson isn’t inexperienced in presiding over football-related matters. She was the magistrate in the case Dryer v. NFL in which retired players accused the NFL of exploiting their identities in films, highlight reels and memorabilia without compensation. She did not complete that case because of her promotion to federal judge in December.
Drew Brees, a plaintiff in the players’ class-action lawsuit, said not having the case heard by Doty is not a setback.
“That’s something the owners seemed to be concerned about,” the Saints’ quarterback said. “For us, it’s about the facts and it’s about the law, and we believe those are on our side.”
Hofstra Law School professor Ronald Colombo said that if the courts recognize the decertified union, “the owners are clearly violating the antitrust laws.” The owners have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the decertification, calling it a sham, but a ruling is not expected on that until the fall.
Colombo said that a ruling in the injunction hearing could tilt the tables in one direction over the other, forcing the sides to reconsider their bargaining positions.
“It’s like a high-stakes game of chicken right now and nobody knows who has the upper hand,” he said. “So when the court comes in and gives one of its first rulings, that gives a perfect example of where things are leaning. Then you realize that maybe their car is bigger than mine, maybe I ought to zig and let them go straight … We’ll learn a lot after that hearing.”
If the players’ request for a preliminary injunction is granted, the NFL would likely request a stay to block the injunction and then appeal.