NFL players urged a federal appeals court Friday to declare the lockout illegal, saying the league had no right to impose a work stoppage that approaches three months with no sign of a deal that will save the 2011 season.
In a courtroom packed by some 200 people, including out-of-work players and retirees on folding chairs, attorneys on both sides of the bitter labor fight got about 30 minutes each to make their cases.
The appeal centers on the lockout that began hours after months of labor talks fell apart March 11, the players’ union dissolved and the fight ended up in federal court. The NFL says the union decertification was a sham meant to gain leverage in the talks and the conflict remains subject to labor law.
The players argue that antitrust laws apply and the lockout put in place under labor law needs to be put on hold, as it was in April by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minnesota.
“We’re asking for a preliminary injunction for a short period of time,” the players’ counsel, Theodore Olson, said. “We’re simply asking that the laws of the U.S. be respected.”
Arguments came before a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals whose two earlier 2-1 decisions have sided with the league and upheld the lockout. The panel took the arguments under advisement with one judge, Kermit Bye, saying only that a ruling would come in “due course” and he suggested the two sides figure things out.
“We wouldn’t be all that hurt if you go out and settle that case,” Bye said. “We will keep with our business, and if that ends up with a decision, it’s probably something both sides aren’t going to like, but at least it will be a decision.”
Training camps traditionally start in late July, and the first preseason game is little more than two months away.
The hearing has been seen as pivotal in the dispute over how to share the NFL’s $9 billion in annual revenue, and the turnout included NFL Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith and two dozen players, including Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins, the Jets’ Tony Richardson and Giants standout Osi Umenyiora.
While speaking to troops at a U.S. Army base in North Carolina, Commissioner Roger Goodell said he believes the owners and players are committed to continue talks until a labor deal is reached and said he will spend the weekend getting ready for the next set of negotiations.
Goodell declined to say if he’d be helping prepare a new offer from the owners.