After U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson granted an injunction yesterday lifting the NFL lockout after 45 days, a lot of people seemed to be the under impression pro football was finally out of the work stoppage woods. This is not the case. To help you understand the implications of the Judge Nelson's ruling and identify the legal wrangling that's yet to come, we've assembled a list of frequently asked questions to help make sense of it all.
So the lockout is over, right?
Kind of. Judge Nelson's 89-page ruling enjoined the lockout, meaning NFL teams have to open the doors of their facilities to players, some of whom have already started showing up for work. She rejected the NFL's claim that the union's decertification was a sham, which gave players grounds to sue as individuals. She also rwrote the plaintiffs (led by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady) made a "strong showing that allowing the League to continue their "lockout" is presently inflicting, and will continue to inflict, irreparable harm upon them, particularly when weighed against the lack of any real injury that would be imposed on the NFL by issuing the preliminary injunction"
The lockout is over! I knew it!
Don't get too excited. Owners still have the ability to appeal Nelson's ruling and could drag the uncertainty out into the summer. But the chances of having a full 2011 football season are better than they were yesterday
Is it at least out of the courts' hands? They're so slow!
No. The NFL has already requested that Nelson "stay" her ruling and allow the lockout remain in place. Rather than immediately granting or rejecting the stay, Nelson took the unexpected step of refusing to rule until Wednesday, leaving players and clubs in a weird state of limbo Wednesday. The league is also filing an appeal with the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, arguing Nelson overstepped her jurisdiction. There they may find a more sympathetic audience to the plight of the businessman. The NFL is confident about the appeal's chances, explains Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio (a former lawyer), because "13 of the 16 judges (active and senior status) assigned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit were nominated by Republican presidents." They can't overturn Nelson's decision unless they conclude her ruling amounted to an "abuse of discretion." That sounds unlikely, but stranger things have happened. If the decision is overturned, the cold war would be back on.
At least players aren't locked out anymore.
They still are. Washington Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander showed up at the team's training facility in Virginia this morning but was turned away by general manager Bruce Allen. Alexander said he was told the team was "still trying to get clarification on the court ruling" before allowing players into the facility. Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould tweeted that he "walked into the facility for a workout and was told I couldn't workout until clarification comes from judges ruling." Coaches are also still banned from talking to players.
When will things get back to normal?
Hard to say. Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann predicts that even with an expedited hearing process, the appeal will be heard sometime in the "next few weeks." Until then, teams won't be trading players or draft picks, and the free agency period, wiped out because of the lockout, still won't happen until the summer