We’re still deep in the tunnel, but if you look closely: light.
A federal judge on Wednesday urged the NFL and the trade association formerly known as the NFLPA to resume discussions while she takes a couple weeks to rule in the antitrust lawsuit pitting Tom Brady et al against the league.
Minnesota judge Susan Nelson wanted to know why the two parties were not in mediation. Four weeks ago, the union decertified after 16 days of federal mediation, forcing the league to declare a lockout at midnight on Mar. 12. Since then, there have been reports that both sides are willing to talk as they await legal proceedings to take course, but nothing has materialized.
The previous mediation period, under George Cohen, wasn’t a total waste. The owners appeared to make significant concessions on the financial gap, benefits for current and retired players and the proposed 18-game regular season. But in the end, neither side felt enough pressure, since Cohen technically had no power over the process.
But this could be very different. Nelson controls the destiny of the league and its players. If she gives the two sides a couple weeks go resume mediation under her auspices, the two sides would be smart to resume mediation under her auspices.
Nelson reportedly spent the majority of the day grilling NFL counsel David Boies, which is not a good omen for the league’s chances. And it just so happens that the league was the more stubborn side when it came to trying to decide if/when to re-open bargaining sessions.
It seems as though Nelson is attempting to force a resolution by essentially issuing the owners an ultimatum. It does not seem as though she buys that decertification was a sham or the lockout was legal. At this point, the owners might have to either make further concessions to the players or lose this case and hope to win an appeal in a higher court.
The problem is that now it’s become obvious that the players are swelling with both momentum and leverage. Why would they be inclined to return to mediation if they’re pretty sure they’re going to successfully bring an end to the lockout and thus attain even more leverage by litigating? Sure, they’ll likely heed Judge Nelson’s advice by showing up for discussions, but what reason do they have to bargain in good faith?
If they weren’t doing so before, I don’t envision it happening now.