Judge Orders NFL, Players to Try Mediation

ST. PAUL, Minn.-- The federal judge handling the lawsuit against the NFL ordered the sides to participate in court-supervised mediation, while saying Monday she still is considering whether to grant the players' request for a preliminary injunction to lift the lockout.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson said formal mediation will begin Thursday before Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan at his office in a Minneapolis courthouse. He will meet with representatives of the players Tuesday, then representatives of the NFL on Wednesday.

The sides tried mediation before, negotiating for 16 days in Washington with Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service director George Cohen. But those talks broke off March 11, allowing the old collective bargaining agreement to expire.

The NFL Players Association dissolved that day, saying it no longer would represent players in bargaining under labor law. That allowed players -- including MVP quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- to file a class-action antitrust suit against the league in federal court. The owners then locked out the players, creating the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.

Nelson ordered Monday that both sides keep the mediation confidential.

At a hearing last week about the injunction request, Nelson urged the sides to get "back to the table" and said negotiations should take place at "not the players' table, not the league's table, but a neutral table, if you will."

The next day, the players and owners both expressed a willingness to talk -- but they disagreed on where and how they wanted to do it. The players said they were willing to engage in mediation overseen by Nelson. The NFL, though, said it wanted to resume talks with Cohen.

She said at the hearing she would take "a couple of weeks" to rule on the injunction. On Monday, she noted that her order to resume mediation "will not have the effect of a stay on this litigation," and that she would rule "in due course."

She also said that "the fact of participation in this Court-ordered mediation, and any communications conveyed between the parties in this process, shall not be admitted or used against any party in any other proceeding or forum, for any purpose."

That addresses the players' concern that any new negotiations would not be considered the NFLPA returning to union status.