- Associated Press - Monday, April 25, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Seven weeks into the NFL lockout, players have an early triumph over the owners in court.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered an immediate end to the lockout Monday, siding with the players in their bitter fight with the owners over how to divide the $9 billion business.

The fate of the 2011 season 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 freeze her ruling to let the appeals process play out.

What will happen in the next few days is murky.

Players may very well show up at team facilities on Tuesday; whether they’ll be allowed access is unclear. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told ESPN that the league doesn’t intend to start the league year until it has “an opportunity to seek a stay.”

DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFLPA, said on ESPN2 that they planned to give players “guidance” about what to do moving forward and said players were eager to resume court-ordered mediation to resolve the pending litigation.

“My hope is really is that there’s somebody on the other side who loves football as much as our players and fans do,” he said.

Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who will be a free agent, wasn’t sure what would happen Tuesday.

“It sounds like there’s a possibility that there might be a door open for us, no pun intended, to go in,” he said. “But I really think that it’s in the best interest of the players because this is such a sensitive time to stay back and let the dust settle.”

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.

What Nelson didn’t do on Monday, however, was tackle the issue of the antitrust lawsuit filed last month when the union broke up. That, she wrote, “must wait another day.”

Story Continues →