De Smith: “Football might be back on”

Even as his players are claiming a modest victory, if that,
after Judge Susan Richard Nelson granted a preliminary injunction
blocking the league’s lockout, DeMaurice Smith was more
emphatic.

”We’re thrilled that it looks like football might be on,” the
executive director of the NFL Players Association said Monday
night.

Speaking to ESPN, Smith added: ”If we’re in a world where
players are actually suing so they can play football … that tells
me we’ve lost our way.”

While the NFL lost this first step in litigation, it appealed
the ruling a couple hours later.

Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University School of Law in
Indianapolis, put the granting of the preliminary injunction in
football terms.

”The players started on their own 20-yard line and I think they
gained 15 or 20 yards,” Roberts said, ”but there’s a long way to
the end zone.

”We expected it, based on the questions she asked at the oral
arguments. We knew where she was leaning.”

Bills safety George Wilson confirmed late Monday that the NFLPA
emailed players suggesting they report to work Tuesday. He said
players were told they should be granted access under normal
circumstances and if they are denied access the teams would be in
violation of the judge’s ruling.

Wilson had not heard from any Bills players who said they would
report to the facility Tuesday.

Several agents suggested that players will begin reporting to
team facilities Tuesday unless an immediate stay of the injunction
is granted. Others were advising their players to hold back for
now.

”Just hold tight, let the dust settle,” Ralph Cindrich said in
an email to The Associated Press. ”Much of this is new ground.
Doors likely locked until appeal is over.”

After calling Nelson’s decision ”definitely a major, major
victory for the players,” Kevin Poston said of the NFL seeking a
stay:

”I know it’s going to be hard for a judge to overrule another
judge unless there was some major error in law that we don’t know
about. But no one knows what happens now to free agency, to
undrafted free agents and minicamps now that the lockout has been
lifted. We still have to hear some details from the judge over the
next couple of days and those details will be important.”

Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who is a free agent, is one of the
nine NFL players who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

”Football is back to business, but guess what? There’s no
rules,” Leber said. ”There’s a lot of positive to that, but
there’s also a lot of negatives.”

Indeed, there are many more questions than answers. Leber said
he was initially worried about what would happen to a player if an
injury occurred during a workout at a team facility, but he said he
was assured by NFLPA leadership that liability should not be a
concern.

”We should feel free to try to get workouts in and try to
resume any sort of normalcy that we had before,” Leber said.

”By no means does this mean that we as the players have all the
leverage or have an outright outlook that we’re in the winning
position right now, because there’s still a long way to go,” said
Wilson, who served as the team’s union player representative before
decertification on March 11.

”But it’s definitely encouraging to see that we got the
information in the right hands, and the judge took the time to take
an objective look at all the information and make a decision that’s
in the best interest of the league as a whole.”

Kicker Jay Feely, Arizona’s player rep before the NFL Players
Association dissolved, was more vociferous in reacting to the
decision.

”The players have said all along, ‘The law is on our side.’
Judge Nelson’s ruling reaffirms our contention,” Feely said.

”I know whenever I’m told I can go back to the building, I’ll
be one of the first guys in there,” Chargers quarterback Philip
Rivers said. ”Every time you hear there might be news, it makes
you think, ‘Oh, it’s time to go.’ But you’ve just got to be
patient. We all want to play, and the schedule coming out makes you
excited, then it’s hurry up and wait.”

Many of his peers are looking at the long term. New York Jets
guard Brandon Moore called it a good day for the players, but
recognized ”there’s still some legal wrangling that needs to go
on.”

”This has been frustrating,” Moore said. ”You’re working out
on your own, trying to set up drills, trying to find a field
somewhere, trying to find a time to get together. I mean, we’re
professional athletes here. We shouldn’t be going through this. On
the same token, these were the only cards we were left with.”

It’s a high-stakes poker game as the owners and players wrangle
over more than $9 billion in revenues. Seth Borden, a labor law
expert at McKenna, Long and Aldridge in New York, emphasized that
Nelson stuck strictly to one topic in a multifaceted dispute.

”The judge was very clear that the ultimate resolution of the
players’ claims against the league is not dealt with in this,”
Borden said. ”Only one issue she has addressed here: whether or
not the effort of the owners to disallow the players from playing
at this time potentially violates the antitrust laws.”

”It certainly tilts some leverage back toward the players. The
major piece of leverage the owners were employing throughout this
dispute was the ability to disallow the players from playing. …
For the time being, this judge has said they cannot do so.”

So what will the players do, at least until a stay is granted –
if it is granted?

”If they are in town,” agent Joe Linta said, ”I would tell
them to show up at 8 a.m. with a cup of coffee and their lunch
box.”