Court-ordered mediation begins for NFL, players

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2011 - 1:15 AM

Both sides had little to say about what happened in the chambers of a federal magistrate judge, thanks to a court-imposed gag order.

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft, left, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, right, left the federal courthouse along with NFL outside attorney Bob Betterman, center, Thursday in Minneapolis.

NFL executives, players and their attorneys met all day Thursday in the Minneapolis chambers of U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan in their first effort to mediate an antitrust lawsuit that the players filed against the league last month.

For reporters gathered on the ninth floor of the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis hoping to glean insight, about the only revelation was that players and execs alike seem to like a certain popular brand of sandwich.

Rather than breaking for lunch, a courier delivered a box of sandwiches shortly after noon. The sides did not break again until after reporters were asked to leave the floor at 5:30 p.m.

Thursday's mediation session, ordered last week by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, is the first time the NFL and its locked-out players have met face to face in more than a month. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and some team owners were expected to participate in talks with players and their representatives. The two sides met for more than eight hours.

On Monday, Nelson assigned Boylan the job of mediator. League officials had met separately with Boylan on Wednesday; lawyers for the players met with him Tuesday. Nelson ordered that all discussions between the sides remain confidential.

Players "decertified," or disbanded, their union last month after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired and talks on a new contract broke off. Owners responded with a lockout, prohibiting players from working out with their teams, signing contracts or doing anything NFL-related.

The lockout followed more than two weeks of negotiations overseen by a federal mediator in Washington, D.C. But the two sides could not agree on how to divide more than $9 billion in annual revenue.

Players then filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, accusing the league of being a monopoly and unfairly restricting their ability to earn a living. They asked Nelson to issue an injunction against the lockout, forcing the league to resume normal business and allow the players to return to work. Retired players have also filed an antitrust lawsuit, saying the lockout could hurt their pensions and health benefits.

Nelson has said the mediation will not necessarily derail the antitrust suit. The players' request for a temporary injunction remains "under advisement, with an order to issue in due course."

A separate hearing before another judge is scheduled for May 12. At that hearing, U.S. District Judge David Doty is expected to decide if the NFL can use more than $4 billion in television revenue as so-called "lockout insurance." Doty has already ruled that the league's collection of that money was a violation of the previous collective bargaining agreement.

Players have asked Doty to put that money in escrow so that teams cannot use it to help fund their operations during the lockout.

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