Just when it looked like the eighth circuit appeals panel was just going to let its temporary stay of the injunction lifting the NFL lockout remain in effect without comment until the June 3 hearing of the NFL's appeal, the court decided to comment.
Here is the 24-page decision formalizing the stay, which includes both the majority ruling and Judge Kermit Bye's dissent. If you don't feel like reading 24 pages of parenthetical references to case law, I'll summarize the majority's point for you: Owners good. Players bad.
In fact, the two-judge majority (Steven Colloton and Duane Benton) didn't just affirm the stay, it pretty much told the players they can forget about winning June 3. It seems all but final that the majority will accept the owners' interpretation of the Norris-LaGuardia Act -- an interpretation, Judge Bye notes, that pretty much turns the intent of that act on its head -- and conclude that Judge Susan Nelson had no jurisdiction to intervene in the lockout. They don't say how they're going to get around the apparent fact that if the union legally decertified, the lockout violates antitrust law, but from reading what they do say, you get the idea they'll surely think of something.
"In sum, we have serious doubts that the district court had jurisdiction to enjoin the league's lockout, and accordingly conclude that the league has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits," the majority wrote.
There are some real head-scratchers in the majority opinion, including how the majority concludes that management would suffer irreparable harm if the lockout were lifted between now and June 3. Contracts would be written that couldn't be undone. Well, yeah. Those contracts would be really, really different from postlockout contracts? This is irreparable harm?
Meanwhile, undrafted rookies, like Conestoga (and Boston College's) Mark Herzlich are missing the spring workouts where they make their case for being good enough to make a roster. If the lockout goes all summer, very few of these guys are going to get any shot at an NFL career this year at all. There also are veteran free agents, toward the end of their careers, who maybe have one or two good years left. They need to be signed and to get into somebody's training camp, in order to be worth signing this year. If they sit out a year, they're probably ex-players. THAT's irreparable harm.
Maybe this ruling is good news, if you take the view that a strong legal indication either way pushes the sides closer to the bargaining table. I hope that's right. But what I really think is that the owners feel they can crush the players if they can string this lockout into the season, when paychecks are being missed. I don't think the NFL is going to offer much that the players will find palatable before then. The appeals court is in the process of giving the owners a big hammer, and I think they can't wait to use it.
The NFLPA released a statement that read: "The NFL's request for a stay of the lockout that was granted today means no football. The players are in mediation and are working to try to save the 2011 season. The court will hear the full appeal on June 3."
"It is now time to devote all of our energy to reaching a comprehensive agreement that will improve the game for the benefit of current and retired players, teams, and, most importantly, the fans," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement. "This litigation has taken the parties away from the negotiating table where these issues should be resolved. We remain confident that the appellate court will determine that this is a labor dispute that should be governed by federal labor law. But the league and players, without further delay, should control their own destiny and decide the future of the NFL together through negotiation."