NFL's labor negotiations reach impasse

Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reprinted from yesterday's editions

National Football League team owners locked out the league's players Saturday, shutting down professional football for the first time in 24 years and plunging the nation's most popular and prosperous sport into a time of uncertainty.

The owners acted after labor talks with the players' union collapsed Friday afternoon and players decertified the NFL Players Association, moving the bitter dispute into the courts and ending an era of NFL labor peace that had lasted since players went on strike in 1987.

Players left the downtown Washington office where talks were held late Friday afternoon, breaking off negotiations with the NFL and team owners over a new pact whose central issue is how to divide the $9 billion in annual revenue generated by the league. The two sides met Friday for a 16th day of mediated talks before reaching a stalemate.

The owners' lockout was confirmed by a source shortly after midnight Saturday, soon after the labor deal expired. With the regular season about six months away, it is impossible to predict whether the labor strife will cost players and the league any games.

Decertifying the NFL Players Association enabled the players to file antitrust litigation against the owners, which they did late Friday, with superstar quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees among the 10 named plaintiffs. Lawyers for the players also announced that they are seeking an injunction to prevent the lockout. The case is expected to end up before Minneapolis-based U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, who has overseen the NFL's labor pact since 1993.

It is not clear when a judge will act on that request, but a union official said it probably would not be for three or four weeks.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in brief remarks that the union had "walked away" from the mediated talks, which he described as the "fairest and fastest" way of resolving the dispute.

"They've chosen to pursue another strategy, and that is their choice," Goodell said. He predicted, however, that the issues eventually would be resolved at the bargaining table. John Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, was harsher in tone, criticizing the NFLPA for refusing to alter its position on key issues. "Their position basically has been 'take it or leave it,' " Mara said.

The union's executive director, DeMaurice Smith, said as he left the talks at about 4:40 p.m. that the union had given owners until 5 p.m. to turn over 10 years worth of audited financial records needed, the union contends, to verify claims that the current financial arrangement is untenable. The owners did not comply.

"I'm sad for our fans," Smith told reporters later. "I'm sad for our players . . . [but] I'm proud of the [players] who have devoted themselves to be leaders." He said the league's contention that the union was more interested in litigation than negotiation all along "flies in the face of reason, flies in the face of facts and is simply untrue."

The threat of a work stoppage brought immediate reaction from fans, bar owners and the gambling industry, among others, who said it would have a huge financial and emotional impact.

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