Keeping Score

NFL Labor: A Federal Judge Lifts the Lockout

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David J. Phillip / AP

A front-runner has emerged for 2011 NFL MVP honors, and her name is Susan Nelson.

On Monday the federal judge lifted the NFL’s lockout of its players, and important step in resolving a labor dispute that could curtail the 2011 season. In an 89-page opinion, Nelson cited several factors for granting the injunction to the players. For one, Nelson wrote, “the players have demonstrated that they are suffering, and will suffer, irreparable harm” from the lockout. On several occasion, Nelson cited the brevity of the average pro football career – less than four years – as a compelling reason for the owners to avoid a work stoppage. Each day away could cost the players. “They face immediate irreparable harm in not being able to practice with or work out with their teammates,” Nelson wrote.

Nelson also ruled that players had more to lose in a lockout than the owners would lose if the lockout were lifted. “The irreparable harm to the players outweighs any harm an injunction would cause the NFL,” she wrote. After all, if the players can’t play, they can’t be compensated for their unique skills. If the players could play, the owners might not be making as much money as they want – the whole dispute revolves around how much revenue the owners and players want to share with one another – but at least they’ll be making something.

And in words that should be catnip to NFL fan everywhere, Nelson also ruled for the players, in part, because “the public interest does not favor the lockout.” A judge who cares about the feelings of fans? Put her on my fantasy team. “The public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, as professional football involves many layers of tangible economic impact, ranging from broadcast revenues down to concessions sales,” Nelson wrote. “And, of course, the public interest represented by the fans of professional football–who have a strong investment in the 2011 season–is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout.  In short, this particular employment dispute is far from a purely private argument over compensation.”

Before fans hoist Nelson over their shoulders, as if she just coached her team to the Super Bowl, they should know that this fight is far from over. The NFL will seek an immediate stay of Nelson’s injunction until it is appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, a process that could take months. That stay could be granted as early as Tuesday. For now, football action is still unfolding in the courtroom. But thanks to Judge Nelson, it got one step closer to the field.


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