Court upholds NFL owners’ right to lock out players

Barry Wilner/ Associated Press

New York —The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday threw out a judge’s order lifting the NFL lockout, possibly giving the league leverage in talks aimed at reaching a new labor deal.

The ruling was issued shortly after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith opened a second straight day of negotiations at a law firm in Manhattan.

The court vacated an April 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson that the lockout should be lifted because players were suffering irreparable harm. The appeals court had already put that order on hold and said in its ruling that Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.

The appeals court ruling allows the players’ antitrust lawsuit to move forward, but the court did take issue with the NFL Players Association’s decision to decertify on March 11, a move that cleared the way for players to file their still-pending antitrust lawsuit against the league.

“The league and the players’ union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement for almost eighteen years prior to March 2011,” the appeals court said in its 2-1 decision. “They were engaged in collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment for approximately two years … Then, on a single day, just hours before the CBA’s expiration, the union discontinued collective bargaining and disclaimed its status ….”

“Whatever the effect of the union’s disclaimer on the league’s immunity from antitrust liability, the labor dispute did not suddenly disappear just because the players elected to pursue the dispute through antitrust litigation rather than collective bargaining.”

Judges Steven Colloton and Duane Benton backed the league Friday, just as the two Republican appointees did in two earlier decisions. Judge Kermit Bye, appointed by a Democrat, dissented both times, favoring the players, and he did so again Friday.

Bye had urged settlement of the dispute to avoid a ruling “both sides aren’t going to like.”

The two sides have been meeting for weeks to try to reach a new labor pact. On Friday, NFLPA executive board President Kevin Mawae and owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys joined Goodell and Smith for more negotiations.

On Thursday, talks stretched on for more than 12 hours, deep into the evening. Some training camps are set to open in two weeks and the first exhibition game, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, is Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, between Chicago and St. Louis.

Joe Barksdale Jr. plans to be ready

Tom Markowski/ The Detroit News

Detroit— To Joe Barksdale Jr., it’s all about the preparation. It’s a day-by-day process built on the traditional values of family, religion and hard work.

If one is prepared, no situation or challenge is unmanageable.

On April 29 Barksdale, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive tackle from Louisiana State and a 2007 graduate of Detroit Cass Tech, patiently awaited his number to be called in the NFL draft. He had the assurance of family members, his trust in God and the satisfaction of knowing his work was about to pay off.

When Barksdale was selected in the third round, 92nd overall, by the Oakland Raiders, he took it in stride. Despite some mock drafts tabbing him for the middle rounds, some as late as seventh, he listened to his coaches at LSU.

“ESPN was talking sixth or seventh round,” Barksdale said. “Everyone was talking sixth or seventh round. I knew I wasn’t going past the fourth, just by what my coaches were saying. Things happen for a reason. I’m happy to go with Oakland, win some games and win a Super or two.”

Timing is everything

Barksdale must continue to play the waiting game. Rookies can’t sign a contract because of the NFL lockout. Barksdale did sign with an agent, Isaac Conner of a3 (Allegiant Athletic Agency), and continues to work out, over two hours a day, four days a week with his personal trainer, Charles Fobbs, a former Cass Tech assistant coach, to be ready when the contract dispute ends.

“Nobody knows when it will end,” Barksdale said. “All you can do is stay in shape. I take care of what I have control of. It’s like the motto at my fraternity: “Do thy duty that is best and leave unto the Lord the rest.”

Fobbs said the lockout hurts the free-agent rookies, not the players who were selected in the draft.

“If I’m the owner or GM, I have to use what I have,” Fobbs said. “I can’t trade for one. Then there are the free-agent veterans. Who are you going to sign, a free agent out of college or a free-agent veteran? You’re going to see a lot of players go to the (Canadian Football League). And why not? You have a chance to play and have someone watch you. It would behoove the owners to watch them. And it won’t cost you anything.”

Barksdale said he’s not bothered by the lockout. He’s confident the upcoming season will be played. He said his agent takes care of his financial needs, what little there are.

“I don’t spend a lot of money,” Barksdale said. “I never had a lot of money. Maybe five dollars in my pocket and that’s it. You give someone who never had candy before some fat-free twizzlers and they’re good.

“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I need money for gas to see my girlfriend (in East Lansing). My hobbies are simple. I have an IPOD, a MacBook. The MacBook is starting to run my life. And I listen to music and play video games.”

Game plan

Barksdale said he didn’t play football as a means to go to college. Going to college wasn’t a choice. His parents, Joe Sr. and Rita Barksdale, made that clear. That’s one reason they sent their son to Cass Tech, to prepare him for college. The plan was for Barksdale to become an engineer. That changed.

Fobbs saw something special, tremendous potential, when he worked with Barksdale as a freshman at Cass Tech. Fobbs convinced Barksdale’s parents to trust him with their son.

“Back then I knew he could play on Sundays,” Fobbs said. “The long shot was, do the parents do what they’re supposed to do? Do they trust me to take their son to Texas for a week in January? I had to educate them. He couldn’t go to family reunions. They couldn’t schedule doctors’ appointment during the school year. He had to be mine.”

Barksdale, who didn’t play football until his freshman year, began to realize his potential late in his sophomore season. Quickly he became a dominant lineman on both sides of the ball. After his senior season, he was named The Detroit News No. 1 Blue Chip prospect.

After researching schools he chose LSU over Ohio State. Fobbs said Barksdale made his selection based on the number of offensive linemen from LSU that made it to the NFL. That’s preparation.

Barksdale started for three seasons at LSU, at right tackle the first two and at left tackle his senior year. He was named second team All-Southeastern Conference his senior year and helped LSU win the Cotton Bowl.

“I expect to start right away,” Barksdale said of his opportunity with the Raiders. “My goal is to play 12 years. I want to play forever.

“I do love football. I know it will be hard when it’s over. When I’m done, I’ll coach and take that money they give me to coach to charity. If you play 12 years, you won’t need more money. I won’t want to work a normal job when I’m done. No 9-to-5 for me. I’m going to ride this train until the tracks run out.”

(313) 223-4633

Formers Spartans are now free agents stuck in NFL lockout limbo

Tim Twentyman/ The Detroit News

Beverly Hills— The hardest part of the NFL lockout from the players’ perspective is the uncertainty it carries with it.

Will players miss a paycheck? Will they be restricted or unrestricted free agents? Are they going to have to take a pay cut?

Those are all questions that no one has the answers to right now.

But for undrafted free agents like Michigan State receiver Mark Dell and tight end Charlie Gantt, their fear is that the lockout could cost them their football careers altogether.

In a normal NFL year, teams would contact players like Dell and Gantt immediately after the draft in hopes of signing them to a free-agent contract. They’d have a contract, a playbook and would already be preparing for minicamps, but not this year.

Because of the lockout, teams were prohibited from signing undrafted free agents. In fact, they could only talk to players during the draft. So, there was a flood of calls from teams to players projected to go undrafted late on the final day of the draft.

Dell said he was contacted by the Lions, Redskins, Patriots, Colts and a couple of other teams that told him they were interested in signing him as a free agent. Dell said they were brief conversations and because of the lockout he hasn’t talked to any of those teams since.

.”It’s been very difficult, actually,” Dell said. “Just for the simple fact that I haven’t played football since Jan. 1. During this time in college, I would have already wrapped up spring ball and been doing some conditioning, at least some football. Not being able to play any football except for the times I’m doing it on my own has been difficult.”

But Dell said he’s at least trying to finding a positive in a bad situation.

“I look at the lockout as both good and bad,” he said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. It gives me an opportunity to get bigger, faster and stronger and I’m taking full advantage of it.”

Dell said he’s working out three times a day to stay ready for the phone call he hopes is coming sooner rather than later.

But Gantt says he’s preparing for all possible scenarios, including an extended lockout.

Like Dell, Gantt was contacted by a number of teams that included the Redskins, Chiefs and Dolphins late on the final day of the draft to tell him they were interested in signing him to a free-agent deal. But he’s also preparing for the worst.

“I’ve got an interview at Beaumont (Hospital) with the chancellor because I want to go to physician assistant school,” he said. “Every day that goes by, I have a worse and worse chance of making a team because I’m not going to know any plays and I’m not going to have any reps.”

Dell thinks the lockout will have the biggest effect on undrafted players teams will invite to training camp. Those players will be coming in with a distinct disadvantage because of the time away from football and the new environment of the NFL to which they’ll not be acclimated. Dell is hoping the coaches take that into consideration and are a little more patient with those players.

“It’s a bit of a disadvantage just as far as learning the concepts and the offense,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the physical play of it. It’s the mental reps and gaining the knowledge of the game and picking up the game from veterans and the playbook. That’s what we’re missing the most.”

Stay or go?

Current NFL players such as Lions quarterback Drew Stanton are also in limbo thanks to the lockout.

No collective bargaining agreement means no rules for free agency. And for a four-year veteran like Stanton, that means a state of flux because he doesn’t yet know if he’s a restricted or unrestricted free agent. He’s doesn’t know if he’s staying or going.

In the old CBA that the owners opted out of, players who had played through their current contract and had at least four years in the league were unrestricted free agents, meaning they could sign with any team.

In last year’s final year of the old CBA, the rules were different and players needed at least six years to reach unrestricted status. Four- and five-year players were restricted free agents, making it much tougher for other teams to sign them.

No one really knows what rules will be in effect in 2011 and that has Stanton uneasy.

“It’s tough because we don’t necessarily have any more information than anyone else,” Stanton said after a workout with teammates at Detroit Country Day last week. “We’re flying by the seat of our pants because once something does get resolved it’s going to be contingent on what our status is.”

The Lions tendered Stanton a restricted free-agent contract at the original-round level under last year’s rules before the lockout took effect. Since Stanton was a second-round pick in 2007, the compensation the Lions would get if he signed elsewhere and the Lions declined to match the offer made to him would be a second-round pick from that team.

But with all restricted free agents, whether or not these tenders apply in the new CBA remains to be seen. It’s possible that the rules could change and have four-year players become unrestricted.

“I’m going to prepare as if I’m going to be here,” he said. “I don’t know it’s tough to say because I want to find the best situation for myself and the organization that’s going to do the best for them. (The Lions) offered me a tender and hopefully when this all gets resolved we’ll have a clearer picture of what that means. Right now, it’s nice to know (the Lions) want me here from their side. But once this all gets resolved, maybe they don’t. Time will tell.”

Time is what a lot of players have on their hands right now and an uncertain future has a lot of them feeling uneasy.

“I just love the game of football,” Dell said. “Being away from it is a little different. I’m ready for that phone call.”

Terry Foster: NFL lockout’s fine with us — just don’t dare miss a game

Terry Foster

The reality of an NFL lockout hit full force Monday when I saw Lions kicker Jason Hanson at the drinking fountain at my local Life Time Fitness.

He was doing mostly weight training on a slow Monday morning in the gym.

He’s got nowhere to train because he is not allowed inside the Lions practice facility and cannot talk to coaches and the training staff. The king of sports is shut down. It just hasn’t hit home for the rest of us because we have not missed one game, one hit or another Lions loss.

We haven’t gathered around the water cooler on a Monday morning second-guessing coach Jim Schwartz or wondering if Matthew Stafford will last the season. Everything seems status quo outside of those clips we saw a few weeks ago of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England quarterback Tom Brady walking down the street before and after negotiations.


The NFL now is a 365-day-a-year league. The draft is scheduled as normal, beginning two weeks from this Thursday. The draft guides are out. Fans are discussing who the Lions should take with the 13th pick and even the top collegiate athletes will walk across the stage, shake commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand, and wear a cap of the team that selected them.

After that, the league will roll into bubble wrap unless a deal is hammered out.

ESPN is reporting that a judge will impose forced mediation on the NFLPA and the NFL. The two sides both agree that more mediation is necessary, but they cannot even agree where to have it.

I won’t bore you with the details because I get the feeling the public doesn’t really care. ESPN provided wall-to-wall coverage and I admit I often turned the channel midway through it. Now when I see lockout news, I just shut it off.

This is April, not August when training camp begins. Players will miss some OTAs and will be forced to work out with you and me. So what? It just doesn’t hit home yet with the public with what is going on.

For players, it does. Hanson said most of the players he talks to are trying to maintain things now, but at some point they will need to find trainers to push them further. Some guys have returned home while others have found workout partners in the Detroit area.

This whole thing seems ridiculous. The owners are not losing money. The players are not going broke. And the league is the most prosperous in our country. I still am trying to figure out what the point of this lockout is. What you have is a few hundred people trying to figure out how to slice up a multi-billion dollar pie.

Meanwhile, the people who really will get hurt are the little guys trying to hammer out a minimum-wage salary. The people who work concessions and show us to our seats need that money. Sunday’s are always a great source of business for the bars and restaurants in Detroit who need every high-ticket day they can get.

It might just be eight dates, but NFL gameday packs a huge punch that can make a place profitable for the week.

These are the people I think about.

It was great seeing Hanson on Monday but I don’t want to see him in my gym. Get out.

There is plenty of room for him, but he belongs in Allen Park with the rest of the Lions.

Judge gets big test in NFL lockout case

Amy Forliti / Associated Press

Minneapolis— Susan Richard Nelson wanted to make a difference as an attorney. Do something that mattered.

She mentored disadvantaged students and young female lawyers. She was on a team that took on big tobacco and won. As a magistrate, she earned a reputation for her ability to bring parties together and settle cases.


Now, less than four months into her career as a federal judge, she’s responsible for deciding the fate of the NFL’s lockout and, perhaps, the 2011 season — a daunting task with big-shot lawyers on both sides and billions of dollars at stake.

Those who know Nelson say her short time on the bench won’t matter. They note she has decades of courtroom experience and won’t be rattled by the glare this high-profile case will bring.

“There’s no question she can handle it,” said Michael Ciresi, who worked with Nelson for 16 years and was one of her partners at Robins, Kaplan, Miller Ciresi. “As a judge, she’s very smart, savvy, respectful … and she’s not afraid to make the tough decisions.”

On Wednesday, attorneys for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and other NFL players are scheduled to ask Nelson for an injunction to halt the lockout imposed by owners. The players have claimed the lockout is causing them “irreparable harm” and they want it stopped.

Attorneys for the NFL want the lockout to stay in place, saying players manipulated the law when they decertified as a union in mid-March and filed what the league calls a baseless antitrust lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which also has been assigned to Nelson, accuses the league of conspiracy and anticompetitive practices. A trial on those issues could take years, so Nelson’s ruling on the lockout will be key — and it’s the first big decision in the labor fight.

“That’s the real heart of the case,” said Stephen Ross, director of the Penn State Institute for Sports Law, Policy and Research. “This decision is really, very important.”

“When you consider the $10 billion that sports fans spend,” he added, “anything they do here is incredibly important as to whether there’s going to be a season or not.”

Nelson’s decision will likely be appealed, so she won’t have the final say. Still, her office is gearing up for Wednesday’s hearing, which has been moved to a larger courtroom to accommodate the expected crush of attorneys and media.

Nelson, 58, is no stranger to the spotlight or to complex cases. The native of Buffalo, N.Y., has 22 years of litigation experience.