Lockout wrangle obscures goal of a settlement: NFLPA

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Score one for the players in Monday's ruling lifting the lockout in the NFL labor dispute, but victory for football fans can only come at the negotiating table, a Players Association spokesman said on Tuesday.

"The ruling yesterday was a big help, obviously," NFLPA executive vice president George Atallah told reporters. "At the end of the day, we're now in a situation where things are legally complicated but philosophically cut and dried.

"The players want to continue to lift the lockout and keep the lockout from happening, and the NFL and the owners now have to argue that a lockout has to be put back in place."

Legal jousting over the lockout of players obscures the bottom line of the labor dispute -- how the two sides can agree on a plan to divide more than $9 billion in annual revenues in North America's most lucrative sports league.

Atallah was asked why the lockout has become a central battleground between the sides, who are also fighting on other legal fronts in their contract showdown.

"A lockout, by definition, is an economic tool to extract more favorable terms for the employer," Atallah said after a symposium on the labor struggle held at New York Law School.

The two sides are grappling for leverage in negotiations. Mediated talks are set to resume on May 16.

"The settlement could come quickly," Atallah said. "On May 16 when mediations resume, we could have an agreement the next day if both sides want it.

"For negotiations to be successful, the number one principle is that both parties have to want the same thing."

Still, Atallah could not say whether the federal judge's decision in Minnesota made a settlement closer to reality.

"I don't know how much closer we are to an agreement," said the players' association representative, who noted that the players had been content with the status quo with the owners demanding changes in the collective bargaining agreement.

Federal judge Susan Richard Nelson has been petitioned by the NFL for an immediate stay of her decision with a ruling expected soon.

If the stay is not granted, NFL owners could post work rules to govern free agency and other league matters that had been frozen by the lockout.

The NFL Draft of college players will go on as scheduled starting on Thursday regardless of court developments.

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Frank Pingue)