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NFL players ask court not to put lockout ruling on hold

By Gene Cherry

SALVO, North Carolina (Reuters) - NFL players asked a federal judge on Wednesday to deny the league's request to stay an order lifting a lockout, saying it is necessary to ensure America's most popular sport has a 2011 season.

"This is the only way to preserve the 2011 season announced by the NFL, given the need to sign free agents, to complete the NFL draft and sign drafted players, to plan and to hold training camp, and to plan for the season itself," NFL Players Association (NFLPA) general counsel Richard Berthelsen said in declaration filed with the U.S. district court in Minnesota.

Berthelsen said a stay of the injunction and continuation of the lockout would be a detriment to players and NFL clubs, as the league will lose money during a lockout.

Judge Susan Richard Nelson requested the players' filings after the NFL sought a stay of her ruling this week lifting the lockout. The league also appealed her ruling to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The league has said the lockout is necessary until clear rules are established for the 2011 season.

If the lockout remains in place, the NFL should post a $1 billion bond, which represents roughly 25 percent of the amount the players were compensated last year, attorneys for the players said in their filing.

"(It) is an appropriate amount given the uncertainty of the timing or outcome of the Eighth Circuit's ruling on the NFL defendants' appeal," the players' lawyers said.

The NFL's legal team responded in writing to Judge Nelson objecting to the idea of a bond.

"There is no basis for the Brady plaintiffs' demand ... for any bond -- let alone a $1 billion bond -- as a condition of a stay pending appeal," wrote the NFL's representatives.

The NFL also produced a document from the players which was a 'proposed order' to be signed by Judge Nelson and which asked her to restrain the league and the clubs from: "Engaging in any contract, combination, conspiracy, boycott, concerted conduct, or collective agreement to prevent NFL teams from participating with players in activities to prepare for the 2011 NFL season."

The league said the proposed order amounted to a motion to reconsider rather than clarification.

Judge Nelson was expected to rule either Wednesday or Thursday on both the league's request for a stay and the players' filing for a clarification of her Monday ruling.

Confusion over the ruling developed Tuesday when a handful of players went to their team's training facilities. Some were allowed to train and others turned away.

YOUNG HOPEFULS

The legal wrangling could hardly come at a worse time for some of the bright young hopefuls hoping to make it into the NFL as the annual player draft begins Thursday.

"For negotiations to be successful, the number one principle is that both parties have to want the same thing," said George Atallah, a spokesman for the NFLPA.

All sides in the dispute, dubbed as a row between billionaires and millionaires, have been heavily criticized by American media and even U.S. President Barack Obama for squabbling over a fortune at a time when thousands of families were struggling to make ends meet.

The sport was plunged into its first work stoppage in almost a quarter of a century when years of labor talks between the players' union and the league collapsed last month.

With both sides unable to agree on a range of issues centered around how they should divide more than $9 billion in annual revenues, the players' union decertified, allowing players to take individual action against the NFL.

Nine players, led by high-profile quarterback Tom Brady, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and its owners, who responded by imposing the lockout.

League officials had estimated a lockout would cost the game $1 billion by September.

(Additional reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)