- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - NFL owners and players and their legal counsel have returned to court for another round of mediation.

Commissioner Roger Goodell arrived Tuesday morning with other league leaders, and other owners entered the courthouse in separate small groups. Linebacker Mike Vrabel showed up shortly before attorneys for the players.

This is the sixth day of talks with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan.

After a series of stinging rebukes in court, the NFL has a significant, favorable ruling in hand. The same three-judge panel that sided with the league to keep the lockout in place will hear arguments next month on the legality of the NFL’s first work stoppage in nearly 24 years. The hearing at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be June 3 in St. Louis.

With restlessness and uncertainty surrounding the league with the start of training camps a little more than two months away, the players could be in a tricky place. The appellate court’s ruling gave strong indication it will side with the NFL in this fight over the division and future of the ever-popular professional sport.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, sounded defiant outside the courthouse in Minneapolis on Monday despite the 2-1 decision from the three-judge panel.

“We look forward to the argument. Look: This is something that the players are prepared for,” Smith said. “It’s a disappointment obviously, but as far as we can tell this is the first sports league in history who sued to not play its game. Congratulations.”

The owners want to stay out of court, blaming the players for preferring litigation. The players claim they’re only interested in playing and that the owners are preventing them and fans from enjoying the game.

“We have an opportunity to resolve this matter and get the game back on the field, and that really should be our exclusive focus,” NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said.

Goodell, speaking to Buffalo Bills season ticket holders on a conference call, said he thinks there’s “still time” to strike a new collective bargaining agreement.

“But time is running short. It’s time to get back to the table and get those issues resolved,” Goodell said.

NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said he was disappointed with the 8th Circuit’s decision.

“The ruling in granting the stay of the injunction means that the NFL owners can continue to not let football be played,” he said.

The appellate court said it believes the NFL has proven it “likely will suffer some degree of irreparable harm without a stay.” The court also cast doubt on the conclusions of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who ruled April 25 that the lockout should be lifted to save the players from irreversible damage. The 8th Circuit panel put her decision on hold four days later, and this order was a more permanent stay of her ruling.

“Both sides raise valid points, and this is a case in which one party or the other likely will suffer some degree of irreparable harm no matter how this court resolves the motion for a stay pending appeal,” the majority wrote. “We do not agree, however, with the district court’s apparent view that the balance of the equities tilts heavily in favor of the Players. The district court gave little or no weight to the harm caused to the League by an injunction issued in the midst of an ongoing dispute over terms and conditions of employment.”

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