NFL dispute could disrupt seasonNEW YORK - The NFL’s players claimed an early points victory in their fight with team owners on Monday, but there was still no immediate end in sight to the long and increasingly bitter row over how to carve up the $9 billion empire.
A federal court judge in Minnesota ordered the NFL to end their six-week lockout of the players, saying that the league’s actions were hurting not only the players but fans alike.
“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,” Judge Susan Nelson wrote in an 89-page ruling released on Monday.
Judge Nelson dismissed the NFL’s argument that the decertification of the players’ union was a sham but the league refused to concede defeat.
As soon as the ruling was announced, the NFL formally requested a stay and appealed the ruling to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the federal court could not rule on the union’s decertification and that was a matter for the National Labor Relations Board.
If the Eighth Circuit Court agrees to hear the league’s appeal and issues a stay on Nelson’s ruling, the case would be expected to drag on for months, possibly disrupting the start of the 2011 season.
DeMaurice Smith, an executive director of the NFL Players Association, welcomed the ruling and said he expected the judge’s decision would stand up against an appeal.
There were celebrations as well from some players but not everyone was popping champagne. Osi Umenyiora, the New York Giants defensive end who was one of the plaintiffs that had asked the court to grant an injunction against the lockout, said he did not think Monday’s decision marked the end of the dispute.
“The lockout is bad for everyone, and players will continue to fight it,” Umenyiora said. “We hope that this will bring us one step closer to playing the game we love.”
All sides in the dispute, dubbed as a row between billionaires and millionaires, have been heavily criticized by American media and even U.S. President Barack Obama for squabbling over a fortune at a time when thousands of families were struggling to make ends meet.
America’s most popular sport was plunged into its first work stoppage in almost a quarter of a century when nearly two years of collective bargaining talks between the players’ union and the league collapsed last month.
Nine players, led by high-profile quarterback Tom Brady, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and its owners, who responded by imposing the lockout.