The NFLPA filed their brief in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case just before midnight Friday, and led with a strong statement: "The NFL is a cartel."
But for as many zingers and strong language that exists in the brief, the argument that the panel of judges in St. Louis are really considering is this: "Are the players still a union?"
In their brief, the players argue that the NFL has not actually proven that the nonunionized players are arguing their case in the wrong place.
"The NFL does not cite any case that has ever held that disputes between employers and individualized nonunionized employees fall under the [Norris LaGuardia Act]," the players' attorneys wrote.
See, the Norris LaGuardia Act (NLGA) basically says that if there's a dispute between a employer and a group of employees in a union, that such a dispute needs to be resolved by the NLRB, and not by the court system.
So this -- "Are the players still a union?" -- is the dispute, legally speaking, that will decide whether or not we continue to have a lockout. If the Appeals Court believes/rules that the NFLPA truly disbanded, they'll lift the lockout. If they don't believe that, they'll leave the lockout in place, because, in their eyes, no court has jurisdiction over such a labor-related matter.
Here's the biggest problem, for those hoping the lockout will end: if the Appeals Court rules that the NFLPA broke up in good faith and is truly no longer a union (versus simply disbanding for legal leverage), they will establish a nightmarish precedent for themselves.
Here's an example that may or may not simply be for the purpose of referencing The Wire, which is all the rage these days: If the Baltimore Union of the International Brotherhood of Stevedores decides it's being treated unfairly and wants to pursue litigation against its employer, Hypothetical Widget Shipping, Inc., it cannot dissolve the union, file a lawsuit and re-unionize later. At least not right now.
But it could -- potentially anyway -- do such a thing should the Appeals Court rule in favor of the players. (Edit: There is a difference between the status of sports leagues and other places of employ re: anti-trust status. But the point remains that the court would open itself up to a different interpretation of the law. Also, a better example could be: the NBA.)
This is problematic for the courts because it completely flips the jurisdiction of all labor disputes, if a union is willing to disband.
Remember, the Court of Appeals is pro-business; they're not "pro Roger Goodell." They don't care about this case in the sense of "How can we keep the players from winning?" They care about this case in the sense of "How does this effect future legal proceedings?"
Which is why it seems quite unlikely that the 8th Circuit will favor the players, regardless of how strong their arguments are.
Are there more issues? Yes. Are some of them stupidly complex? Absolutely.
But if you're going to boil the legal battle of the lockout down to one singular thing, it's whether or not a group of judges want to believe that the NFLPA has deunionized. Because of what they'd be setting themselves up for in the future, it's highly unlikely they'll rule that way.
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