Federal judge lifts lockout, but NFL will appeal
Many hurdles remain to be cleared and questions answered before NFL is back on track. Some players plan to visit team's headquarters Tuesday.
MINNEAPOLIS — After seven weeks of bitter back-and-forth, failed talks and growing uncertainty about the 2011 season, a federal judge has ordered an immediate end to the NFL lockout.
But there are many hurdles to clear and questions to answer before pro football is actually back on track.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson gave the players an early victory Monday in their fight with the owners over how to divide the $9 billion business, granting their injunction request to lift the lockout.
The fate of next season, however, remained in limbo: The NFL responded by filing a notice of appeal questioning whether Nelson exceeded her jurisdiction, seeking relief from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Hours later, the league filed a motion for an expedited stay, meaning it wants Nelson to put her ruling on hold to let the appeals process play out.
What happens in the next few days is murky, too.
Will players burst through the weight room doors at team facilities and start studying their playbooks? Or will they keep to the mostly individual routines they've developed since the start of the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987?
"I really think that it's in the best interest of the players because this is such a sensitive time to stay back and let the dust settle," said linebacker Ben Leber, one of the 10 plaintiffs in the still-pending antitrust lawsuit filed against the league when the union broke up last month. "The way I understand it is we're in a 'Wild West' right now. Football is back to business, but guess what? There's no rules. There's a lot of positive to that, but there's also a lot of negatives."
Two members of the Seahawks indicated they planned to visit the team's headquarters Tuesday.
Only players already under contract for next season could just show up, which excludes the 20-some members of last year's team whose contracts expired in March. That total includes quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and starting offensive linemen Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer.
DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFLPA, said on ESPN2 that the organization — now a trade association and not a union — planned to give players "guidance" about what to do. He said players were eager to resume court-ordered mediation to resolve the fight.
"My hope is really is that there's somebody on the other side who loves football as much as our players and fans do," he said.
Nelson's ruling was a stern rebuke of the NFL's case, hardly a surprise given the court's history with the league and her pattern of questioning during a hearing here three weeks ago in St. Paul, Minn.
In a room packed with lawyers, players and league officials, Nelson politely but persistently questioned NFL lawyer David Boies about his repeated argument that she shouldn't have jurisdiction over a labor dispute with an unfair negotiation charge against the players pending with the National Labor Relations Board.
In her ruling, Nelson rejected that contention. She recognized the NFL Players Association's decision to "de-unionize" as legitimate because it has "serious consequences" for the players.
Nelson even referenced her colleague, U.S. District Judge David Doty, who has frequently ruled for the players in the past. Not only did she declare that players are likely to suffer harm by the lockout, a legal requirement for granting the injunction, Nelson wrote that they're already feeling the hurt now.
She cited their short careers, arguing that monetary damages wouldn't be enough relief.
What Nelson didn't do, however, was tackle the issue of the antitrust lawsuit filed last month when the union broke up. That, she wrote, "must wait another day."
If the injunction is upheld, the NFL must resume business in some fashion.
It could invoke the 2010 rules for free agency, meaning players would need six seasons of service before becoming unrestricted free agents when their contracts expire; previously, it was four years. The requirement for restricted free agents would be four years rather than the three years before 2010.
The NFL would need to determine if offseason workouts can be held while the appeal is pending.
• Michael Vick and the Humane Society said that an application built to run on Google Inc.'s Android software glorifies dogfighting.
The app is called "Dog Wars" and lets players feed, water, train and fight their virtual dogs against others.
"I've come to learn the hard way that dogfighting is a dead-end street," Vick said in a statement posted on the Humane Society's website. "Now, I am on the right side of this issue, and I think it's important to send the smart message to kids, and not glorify this form of animal cruelty, even in an Android app."
• Hall of Fame fullback Joe Perry, the first player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and nicknamed "The Jet" for his sensational speed, died Monday. He was 84.
The San Francisco 49ers announced that Perry, also a World War II veteran, had died in Arizona of complications from dementia.
Times staff reporter Danny O'Neil contributed to this report.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.