NFL Lockout 2011: A Legal Perspective

Mediation resumed today between the NFL owners and players in the ongoing labor dispute. Does anyone really care? Does anyone think real progress will be made? Pro Football Talk doesn't and neither do I.

Here is PFT's take:

"... no one is thinking that any progress will be made. Many simply aren’t even paying attention."

Thing is, we might not believe any progress will be made. We should, however, be paying attention. With that in mind I had the opportunity recently to discuss the NFL Lockout with New York City-based sports lawyer and agent Jason Chayut, of Sportstars. Chayut represents New York Giants offensive tackle Will Beatty, and 20-25 other NFL players.

I asked Chayut if he expected any progress during this mediated session.

"I'm an optimist by nature. I think based on everything we read and everything that's gone on the logical conclusion is mediation is a waste of time," Chayut said. "That being said, there is so much at stake in terms of both ownership and players that you have to imagine, or you have to hope or you have to believe that rational minds and cooler heads will prevail."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has, time and time again, criticized DeMaurice Smith and the players for taking their case to court. Of course, you have to believe that is because time and time again the players have received favorable rulings from the legal system.

The NFL is right now banking on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturning Judge Susan Nelson's District Court ruling that ended the lockout, one the 8th Circuit stayed pending the appeal. Most legal professionals see this as a difficult, though not impossible, appeal for the league to win. Chayut is no different.

"The legal system is based on precedent and Judge Nelson in her ruling used a lot of the 8th Circuit's previous rulings to come down with her decision in favor of the players," Chayut said. "From that standpoint I think it's going to be very difficult for the Circuit Court to overturn what Judge Nelson ruled. But, my understanding is that anything can happen in the court-room. Nothing is a hundred percent."

The NFL has discussed ceasing operations if it loses this current appeal to the 8th Circuit Court. Chayut explained why the league would consider a shut down.

"From a legal standpoint the conversation about shutdown exists largely because when you're in anti-trust litigation there is what's called treble damages, which is triple damages for the winner of an anti-trust litigation," Chayut said. "If the owners were found to be in violation of anti-trust law then basically any working conditions or wages, anything imposed by 32 competing businesses on non-union employees would all be violations of that anti-trust law.

"I guess the argument in favor of ceasing operations would be we don't want to just keep tripling damages by instituting wages, hours, benefits that all are in violation of the anti-trust law."

Much has been written and said about the tone of the labor dispute. Players have called the commissioner "Goon-dell" and said plenty of other not-so-kind things. The owners have also spent plenty of time using the media to bash the players, and to belittle Smith.

As nasty as it may seem, Chayut said the only real difference between this and any other major negotiation of this type is the scrutiny it has received.

"I think it's normal litigation. It appears nastier. There's so much of a fan base and a passion for the sport of football, and so many people that care about having this game that it's taken on a life of its own," Chayut said. "I wouldn't be able to characterize it as any more or less nasty than any other litigation, I just think that because it involves the NFL and it involves the potential for there to be no football come September the nastiness associated with it is great."

Chayut said the hope is that the courts eventually push the two sides back to the table for real, fruitful negotiations.

"I'm hoping that's where we're headed, that eventually this will play into a new CBA. At the end of the day at least from where I'm sitting ownership has failed to articulate, at least at this point, the problem with the previous collective bargaining agreement," Chayut said. "Until that's clear it's very hard for the players side to come to the table and understand what their issue is.

"From the player perception asset has been exponential in terms of its growth, profits have been great. There is not a single team of the 32 NFL teams who has lost money. The was the catalyst for showing us the profit and loss statement, so that we can understand better why the previous collective bargaining agreement didn't work."

"We're hoping that in that process maybe there is something that is forced to be exchanged that will allow there to be a ray of light into ownership's thought process," Chayut said. "Hopefully that will be the catalyst for Roger Goodell and D Smith to come together and say ‘now I see your point, let's get working on this.' "

On that, I think we can all agree.

(E-mail Ed at bigblueview@gmail.com. Follow Big Blue View on Twitter.)

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