Lockout won’t stop season

Published 12:26 am Tuesday, May 3, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With its players again barred from work, the NFL told a federal appeals court Monday the fight over whether the lockout is legal won’t get in the way of the 2011 season.

The rest of the labor fight? That’s anyone’s guess.

The league filed an 18-page brief with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, arguing that the lockout should remain on hold permanently while appeals play out.

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The appeals court put U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s order lifting the 45-day lockout on hold temporarily last week. The owners reinstated the lockout a few hours later, and they want a more permanent stay of Nelson’s order so they can argue that it should be overturned altogether.

A decision from the appeals court is expected soon.

The players have argued there is no guarantee appeals can be wrapped up in time for the regular season, but the NFL said the process — thanks to a request for an expedited hearing — is more a matter of weeks than months.

Still, the St. Louis Rams announced via Twitter they’re pushing back the deadline for renewing season tickets to June 1 to give fans “flexibility given the current labor uncertainty.” Other teams have previously adjusted prices and renewal plans to account for the lockout.

A Detroit Lions season-ticket holder from suburban Detroit, Bill LaFleur, said he’s already renewed for a fourth year despite the uncertainty.

“It was due in a couple weeks and the Lions told me if I didn’t pay it by the deadline, I could possibly lose my seat,” LaFleur said.

The players have a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NFL pending before Nelson. But the legality of the lockout has essentially become the fight for now, with both sides arguing over whether Nelson has jurisdiction in the case and the notion of irreparable harm — a claim that has been prominent in nearly every court filing since the collective bargaining agreement fell apart March 11 and the NFL stumbled into its first work stoppage since the 1987 strike.

Nelson agreed with the players that they were suffering such harm when she lifted the 45-day lockout on April 25.

The league has argued, and did again Monday, that Nelson’s order must be stayed or it “would irreparably harm the NFL by undercutting its labor law rights and irreversibly scrambling the eggs of player-club transactions.”

“Absent a stay, there will be trades, player signings, players cut under existing contracts, and a host of other changes in employment relationships” between hundreds of players and the 32 NFL teams, the league’s attorneys wrote.

Players have argued that they are at the highest risk for harm through the postponement or cancellation of free agency, offseason workouts and the like.

The NFL disagreed, saying players would not lose their opportunity to play for the team of their choice once the league year begins, even if that’s in late June or early July instead of early May.

The NFL also complained that Nelson ignored evidence that many players, including two of the 10 plaintiffs, Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins, skip team-organized workouts in the offseason. Jackson and Mankins both held out into the start of the 2010 season, the league noted, “indicating that missing time in the offseason is not irreparable harm.”

Attorneys have routinely used comments from the other side in their arguments and it happened again Monday when the NFL cited Pro Bowl players Ray Lewis and Wes Walker in suggesting some players were all too happy to have the extra time off.

Welker said recently at a youth football camp, “Let’s do a lockout every year,” according to the NFL’s filing, a statement he preceded with an in-all-seriousness assessment of the unscheduled respite forced by the lockout.

Said Lewis after an autograph signing, according to the league: “To me, this is probably the greatest window of opportunity I’ve ever had in my life. It’s been 25 years of my life that I’ve never had a summer to myself.”

In a letter filed Monday about four hours after the NFL’s response, a lawyer for the players wrote to “correct a misstatement” by the league and said Nelson had already determined the lockout is damaging the players.