U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ruled on Monday to end the NFL lockout, siding with the players and stating that the ongoing work stoppage in causing “irreparable harm” to their careers. As expected, NFL team owners immediately vowed to appeal the decision, citing a jurisdictional conflict between the court and the National Labor Regulations Board, which they believe is the proper governing body for NFL operations and labor disputes. Mediation sessions between the players and owners are still suspended until May 16th, and there has still been no decision in the player’s anti-trust suit against the league, which contends that owners illegally appropriated $4 billion in revenue from broadcast networks in preparation for a season-long lockout. Fans should expect the owners’ appeal in the lockout case to run at least a number of weeks, if not months.
While Nelson’s decision may give the players a small advantage heading back into the mediation room three weeks from now, significant progress might be slow in coming until both the appeal and the anti-trust case are decided in court. As the collective bargaining agreement expired in March, the players themselves may also be at risk for litigation for violating NLRB regulations by jointly filing suit against an employer without legally being recognized as a labor union. In short, legal action in the NFL labor dispute is far from over, and yesterday’s verdict may ultimately cause more litigation than it solved. It’s a good sign that the courts have shown empathy for the fans – Nelson, in her decision, said “the public interest represented by the fans of professional football, who have a strong investment in the 2011 season, is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout” – but so far any large-scale resolution to the dispute is still a long way off.