- Associated Press - Monday, April 25, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - After seven weeks of bitter back and forth, failed talks and growing uncertainty about the 2011 season, a federal judge has ordered an immediate end to the NFL lockout.

But there are many hurdles to clear and questions to answer before pro football is actually back on track.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson gave the players an early victory Monday in their fight with the owners over how to divide the $9 billion business, granting their injunction request to lift the lockout.

The fate of next season, however, remained in limbo: The NFL responded by filing a notice of appeal questioning whether Nelson exceeded her jurisdiction, seeking relief from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Hours later, the league filed a motion for an expedited stay, meaning it wants Nelson to put her ruling on hold to let the appeals process play out.


What happens in the next few days is murky, too.

Will players burst through the weight room doors at team facilities and start studying their playbooks? Or will they keep to the mostly individual routines they’ve developed since the start of the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987?

“We’re in a ‘Wild West’ right now. Football is back to business, but guess what? There’s no rules. There’s a lot of positive to that, but there’s also a lot of negatives,” said linebacker Ben Leber, one of the 10 plaintiffs in the still-pending antitrust lawsuit filed against the league when the union broke up last month.

Bills safety George Wilson confirmed that the NFLPA emailed players late Monday suggesting they report to work on Tuesday. He said players were told they should be granted access under normal circumstances and if they are denied access the teams would be in violation of the judge’s ruling.

“We have received inquiry from a number of players and agents. We have simply responded and told them we don’t see anything wrong with it,” NFL Players Association spokesman George Atallah said in a text message to The Associated Press. “Players are organizing stuff on their own …”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the NFL Network that any player who shows up to team facilities will be allowed in.

Nelson’s ruling was a stern rebuke of the NFL’s case, hardly a surprise given the court’s history with the league and her pattern of questioning during a hearing here three weeks ago in St. Paul, Minn.

In a room packed with lawyers, players and league officials, Nelson politely but persistently questioned NFL lawyer David Boies about his repeated argument that she shouldn’t have jurisdiction over a labor dispute with an unfair negotiation charge against the players pending with the National Labor Relations Board.

In her ruling, Nelson rejected that contention. She recognized the NFL Players Association’s decision to “de-unionize” as legitimate because it has “serious consequences” for the players.

Nelson even referenced her colleague, U.S. District Judge David Doty, who has frequently ruled for the players in the past. Not only did she declare that players are likely to suffer harm by the lockout, a legal requirement for granting the injunction, Nelson wrote that they’re already feeling the hurt now.

She cited their short careers, arguing that monetary damages wouldn’t be enough relief.

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