NFL retirees claim exclusion in lockout

While NFL owners and players appear to be inching toward a

resolution of the league’s long lockout, a group of retired players

is clamoring to be more involved in the discussions.

The group filed a class-action complaint against the owners and

current players in federal court Monday, saying they have been

excluded from the mediation sessions taking place in an attempt to

end the lockout.

Named plaintiffs including Hall of Famers Carl Eller, Franco

Harris, Marcus Allen and Paul Krause are asking U.S. District Judge

Susan Richard Nelson to put a halt to the mediation she ordered and

declare that the current players cannot negotiate on behalf of

those who are retired.

Owners and current players have met five times over the last few

weeks as they work to put together a new collective bargaining

agreement in time to avoid the loss of training camps and games.

They met with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan in Minneapolis

last week, including for more than 15 hours on Thursday, and will

resume meetings on Tuesday in New York.

The retired players say that NFL owners, the NFL Players’

Association and a group of current players including star

quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are

”conspiring to depress the amounts of pension and disability

benefits to be paid to former NFL players in order to maximize the

salaries and benefits to current NFL players.”

The NFL declined comment on the complaint, which was first

reported by the New York Times. The Associated Press left a message

for an NFLPA spokesman seeking comment.

The complaint gets to the heart of an issue that has been

building for quite some time. Retired players have felt

marginalized in the dispute over how to divide more than $9 billion

in revenue.

After the owners locked out the players in March, the NFLPA

disbanded and a group of them sued the league for antitrust

violations. A small group of retired players, including Eller,

Obafemi Ayanbadejo and Ryan Collins, filed their own lawsuit

against the league seeking more help for medical treatments of

former players and better pensions.

Nelson combined the two lawsuits, and several representatives of

the retired players, including Eller and attorney Michael Hausfeld

were present at early mediation sessions in Minneapolis.

But as talks have heated up and the venue has shifted from the

Twin Cities to Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois and back to

Minneapolis again over the last month or so, the retired players

have not been present.

This hasn’t sit well with them, and lawyers for the group have

sent letters to Boylan, lobbied Commissioner Roger Goodell and held

intense media briefings to make their feelings known.

The complaint said the players’ decision to decertify their

union makes it an antitrust violation for the owners and current

players to negotiate for retired players.

It also alleges that the NFL had said it would tap revenue

streams both from within and outside the salary cap to help retired

players, union representatives including DeMaurice Smith want all

the money delegated for the cap to be given to current players.

”Through the settlement they are forging, the Brady plaintiffs,

the NFLPA and the NFL defendants are conspiring to set retiree

benefits and pension levels at artificially low levels,” the

complaint alleged.

If Nelson rejects the motion for an injunction on the mediation,

the retired players are asking for treble damages.

It was not immediately clear what kind of impact the filing

would have on the continuing talks between the owners and current

players. They were scheduled to resume on Tuesday, with the open of

training camp less than three weeks away and the preseason opener

between the Bears and Rams slated for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.