- Associated Press - Monday, April 25, 2011

NFL players are claiming a modest victory, if that, after Judge Susan Richard Nelson granted a preliminary injunction blocking the league’s lockout.

“By no means does this mean that we as the players have all the leverage or have an outright outlook that we’re in the winning position right now, because there’s still a long way to go,” said Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson, who served as the team’s union player representative before decertification on March 11.

“But it’s definitely encouraging to see that we got the information in the right hands, and the judge took the time to take an objective look at all the information and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the league as a whole.”

The NFL, of course, doesn’t see it the same way and filed an appeal a couple of hours after Nelson’s decision.

Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, put the granting of the preliminary injunction in football terms.

“The players started on their own 20-yard line and I think they gained 15 or 20 yards,” Roberts said, “but there’s a long way to the end zone.

“We expected it based on the questions she asked at the oral arguments. We knew where she was leaning.”

Kicker Jay Feely, Arizona’s player rep before the NFL Players Association dissolved, was more vociferous in reacting to the decision.

“The players have said all along, ‘The law is on our side.’ Judge Nelson’s ruling reaffirms our contention,” Feely said.

Many of his peers are looking at the long term, though. New York Jets guard Brandon Moore called it a good day for the players, but recognized “there’s still some legal wrangling that needs to go on.”

“This has been frustrating,” Moore said. “You’re working out on your own, trying to set up drills, trying to find a field somewhere, trying to find a time to get together. I mean, we’re professional athletes here. We shouldn’t be going through this. On the same token, these were the only cards we were left with.”

It’s a high-stakes poker game as the owners and players wrangle over more than $9 billion in revenues. Seth Borden, a labor law expert at McKenna, Long and Aldridge in New York, emphasized that Nelson stuck strictly to one topic in a multifaceted dispute.

“The judge was very clear that the ultimate resolution of the players’ claims against the league is not dealt with in this,” Borden said. “Only one issue she has addressed here: whether or not the effort of the owners to disallow the players from playing at this time potentially violates the antitrust laws.”

“It certainly tilts some leverage back toward the players. The major piece of leverage the owners were employing throughout this dispute was the ability to disallow the players from playing. … For the time being, this judge has said they cannot do so.”