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NFL prepares for game-changing week in lockout dispute

This week could see a breakthrough in the seemingly endless dispute between NFL owners and players. Steven O’Rourke reports.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, speaks with reporters.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, speaks with reporters.
Image: Cliff Owen/AP/Press Association Images
IN 2031, when the NFL Hologram Network looks back at the names that made the game in 2011, you’d expect to see the likes of Tom Brady, Ndamukong Suh and, who knows, maybe even someone like Cam Newton.

However, the most important name of all may well be Susan Nelson.

On Wednesday this week, in a small courtroom in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Judge Susan Nelson will hear a request from 10 current NFL players seeking a temporary injunction to the lockout imposed by owners when the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) decertified on March 11.

The players, whose numbers include Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and the afore-mentioned Brady, are taking the case because they believe that the NFL – and, by association, the owners – are engaging in anticompetitive practises.

Essentially, they are accusing the League of conspiring to deny them their right to “market their services through a patently unlawful group boycott”. That’s a fancy – and, no doubt, expensive given the calibre of lawyers involved – way of saying that that they believe they should earn more money.

On April 6, Judge Nelson will hear from the players and retire to make her decision. It could take up to a week for her to make a ruling but it is expected – though by no means certain – that she will rule in favour of the players.

While the NFL will undoubtedly appeal, the lifting of the injunction would mean that players, coaches and front offices can begin planning for the 2011 season under 2010 rules. Injured players could be treated by their team’s medical team again. Trades and free-agency signings could be made. Who knows, maybe even Chad Ochocinco would stop trying out for ‘futbol’ teams and go back to what he’s allegedly good at.

However, while this may seem like a good outcome for fans and players, it could well be the beginning of a very slippery slope. Should the players, after all appeals have been exhausted, actually win, it would spell the end of collective bargaining in the NFL.

While this would be great news for the Mannings and Bradys of the league, it would spell disaster for the second string centres, punters and long-snappers who currently benefit from the fact that teams are restricted in how much they can pay their star players.

Ultimately, the gap between the haves and have-nots would grow and teams would undoubtedly fold, collapsing in on themselves like a dying star beneath the weight of their player’s wage demands.

We’re a long way from that apocalyptic scenario just now and, given the money they stand to lose, the owners are likely to fight tooth and nail to ensure that such a situation doesn’t come to pass. However, they must also accept a lot of responsibility for the current impasse.

It is, afterall, not the players’ fault that the Cowboy’s Jerry Jones and his fellow owners negotiated a bad deal last time out. It’s also not too difficult to see, with over $9 billion in potential revenue floating around, why the players would believe the pie was big enough for everyone to have a slice.

In Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino’s character Tony D’Amato provides unimaginative coaches and motivational speakers everywhere with one of the most nauseatingly overused quotes in the history of cinema when he says that football and life are about “the six inches in front of your face”.

He was wrong. It is actually about four inches, made of green paper and decorated with portraits of dead presidents.

On April 6, Susan Nelson will begin deciding how much of it each side gets.

Steven O’Rourke is the offensive coordinator of Tullamore Phoenix American Football Club. When not obsessing with football he can be found at 4fortyfour.

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