Headline Sports Law

Waiting To Hear If The NFL Lockout Is Legal

The NFL owners and players were back in court on June 3 to try and make some headway in the three-month-old lockout. Lawyers for both sides were given 30 minutes to state each side’s case in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. The basic argument was whether or not the league-imposed lockout that began in March is legal.

Back on April 25, Minnesota U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson ruled the lockout illegal and said the players were subject to irreparable harm as a result of it. However, the appeals court has ruled in favor of the NFL owners since then, which means the lockout will carry on during the during the appeals process.

Lawyer Ted Olson, who represents the players, said things might change after the court reads all of the briefs and listens to oral arguments concerning the case. He feels the players’ arguments are pretty persuasive and that the court should eventually side with the players and Judge Nelson. Olson also placed blame on the league for cancelling the collective-bargaining agreement and locking the players out. He added that the players didn’t do it – the league did.

Paul Clement, lawyer for the NFL, said the court doesn’t have the jurisdiction to end the lockout. He said lockouts are actually pretty common during labor disputes and that they are legally sound. He also pointed to the Norris-LaGuardia Act, which says federal district courts are not allowed to issue an injunction when it comes to labor disputes.

Olson argued that the players dissolved the NFL Players Association following talks on March 11 and that the collective bargaining relationship was ended, which means the situation should be considered an anti-trust issue, not a labor dispute.  It is unlikely that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with Olson’s argument.

Clement said the most immediate way to come to an agreement is to simply get back to the negotiating table as soon as possible and to forget about anti-trust laws. He said both parties have to be interested in getting a deal done as a labor settlement and not an anti-trust settlement.

Judge Kermit Bye asked Clement if he thought the NFL players were suffering irreparable harm and Clement answered, “No.”  Clement then added that he has heard a lot of players are happy with the current situation since it allows them to spend more time with their families.  Players are only hurting their position by making these types of ignorant public statements.

Judge Bye also asked if the players were suffering financially and Clement said any financial damage cannot be classified as irreparable.  He said losing out on money may put pressure on the players to come to an agreement, which is exactly what a lockout is designed to do.

The owners and players association got together without their lawyers before the court hearing, but neither side would say what was discussed in the meetings. Judge Bye said it was a complex case and a decision will come in due course. He added that the courts wouldn’t have a problem if the players and league settled the issue themselves, and stated, “But that’s up to you.”

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.