The rollercoaster ride that is the NFL labor situation took yet another turn today as the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the NFL’s request to stay Judge Nelson’s order enjoining the league’s lockout. The three-person judicial panel comprised of Judges Steven Colloton, Duane Benton and Kermit Bye has tarnished the brief sense of optimism surrounding the league as it conducted its annual draft in New York. The 8th Circuit’s ruling once again potentially puts the 2011 season in jeopardy. While the courts and the parties have all indicated they would be working to resolve this expeditiously, the reality is that nothing happens quickly in litigation except racking up legal fees and growing more frustrated.
The court’s rationale for staying the order was “to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the motion for a stay pending appeal.” Judges Colloton and Benton voted to lift U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson’s temporary injunction against the NFL’s lockout of its players. Judge Bye dissented, writing that the NFL did not face a “true emergency.”
Colloton and Benton lifted the temporary injunction in a one-paragraph statement:
“The motion of appellants National Football League, et al., for a temporary stay of the district court’s order dated April 25, 2011, pending a decision by this court on the appellants’ motion for a stay pending appeal, has been considered by the court and is granted. The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the motion for a stay pending appeal. See, e.g., In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 841 F.2d 230, 232 (8th Cir. 1988) (describing grant of temporary stay to consider motion for stay pending appeal); see also Cobell v. Norton, No. 03-5262, 2004 WL 603456, at *1 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (describing administrative stay procedure); Arnold v. Garlock, Inc., 278 F.3d 426, 433 (5th Cir. 2001) (describing implementation of temporary stay to provide sufficient time to consider fairly whether a formal stay pending appeal should issue); Twelve John Does v. District of Columbia, 841 F.2d 1133, 1137 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (describing entry of a temporary administrative stay to permit time for full consideration of motions). The district court’s order of April 25, 2011, is temporarily stayed.”
Bye dissented in a slightly longer statement, which included:
“In my tenure as an appellate judge, the only circumstances I can recall in which the power to grant a temporary stay has been invoked by a party, and exercised by our court, have been circumstances which truly qualify as emergencies. For example, I have granted such a request on behalf of an immigrant who has filed a petition with our court to review a removal order entered by the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA), when the immigrant’s removal date was imminent and the government had not yet responded to the immigrant’s request for a stay of removal pending our review of the petition. Another situation in which a temporary stay, pending review of a motion for a stay itself, may be appropriate is in a death penalty case where an execution date has been set and is imminent.
“Such circumstances qualify as true emergencies because of the impossible or nearly impossible task of reversing the consequences of allowing a district court’s order to take effect. We cannot reverse the consequences of an execution if it takes place before we have had a chance to hear from both parties. Similarly, an immigrant who has already been removed faces a very difficult task of returning to this country should we actually grant a motion for a stay of the removal pending our review of the immigrant’s petition.
“The NFL has not persuaded me this is the type of emergency situation which justifies the grant of a temporary stay of the district court’s order pending our decision on a motion for a stay itself. If we ultimately grant the motion for a stay, the NFL can easily re-establish its lockout. The NFL is certainly not in the same emergency position as an immigrant about to be removed, or an individual about to be executed, who cannot so easily reverse the consequences of initially allowing a district court’s order to take effect. Because I believe we should limit our reliance on Eighth Circuit Rule 27A(b)(4) to true emergency situations, I disagree with the panel’s decision to enter a temporary stay based on the circumstances involved in this case.”
Judge Bye’s dissenting opinion should resonate with NFL fans who are extremely critical of the league and its executives. The NFL has become the pinnacle of American sports in terms of prosperity and popularity. The league generated over $9 billion and they are quarreling over how to split that up and share with the players who are the ones that put their lives and well-being on the line to entertain the public. Now they are seeking relief from the court under a federal rule that is typically reserved for true emergencies. The appeals court is expected to rule next week on the NFL’s request for a more permanent stay that would last through its appeal of the injunction, a process expected to take up to two months.
The announcement that the lockout had resumed came right after the third round of the NFL draft had ended. NFL spokeman Greg Aiello said that “teams have been told that the prior lockout rules are reinstated effective immediately.” Ironically and unfortunately, this all came on the same day that players returned to their teams’ facilities for the first time since March. The players went from breathing sighs of relief and exchanging high-fives with teammates in the morning to feeling despondent and frustrated as midnight approached and the league went back into lockout mode.
Joe Linta, an agent who represents Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, wants the NFL to go forward with free agency despite the decision. “The owners will create a huge injustice to their own GMs and personnel departments if they don’t allow the signing of undrafted free agents,” he said. “They may not care about the players, but they should at least help their own scouts, coaches and personnel people who have worked so hard in the scouting process. This is by far the biggest issue of the next 48 hours.” I would argue it is ONE of the biggest issues. The newest members of the National Football League, the players that were just selected in the draft earlier this week, are left in limbo as they begin their professional careers. They were just drafted, and now they can’t even talk to their new teams.
This entire fiasco has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. Unfortunately for the fans and the players, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. It is likely that the lockout will remain in effect for the foreseeable future as the courts decide what to do with the motions and injunctions. This means we have no clear answers on what will happen with free agents or how the new rookies will fit into their new teams. The more these issues get tied up in the legal system and reliant on the courts to untangle, the more likely it is that the summer mini camps will not start on time. After that, all bets are off.
One other area where the labor dispute will have a tremendous effect is the fantasy sports industry. Fantasy football is by far the most popular and prosperous sport for fantasy leagues and participants. Without free agency and with a potential delay or cancellation of the 2011 season, several fantasy football companies will suffer catastrophic financial losses. From printing magazines with projections to hosting websites where leagues play to providing advice and content, there are lots of people whose well-being is dependent on whether there is a season. Fantasy sports is considered by some to be an impregnable citadel of financial security due to its constant growth and popularity amongst financially stable Americans. However, this labor dispute is the one potential piece of kryptonite that could give fantasy football a harsh reality check. Let’s hope for everybody’s sake that cooler heads prevail, the courts do what they are supposed to do, and we can all get ready for some football.