The federal judge overseeing the dispute between NFL owners and players Monday ordered the sides to participate in mediation to help resolve the work stoppage that threatens the coming season.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered the players' attorneys and their former union's executive director, DeMaurice Smith, to meet Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis with veteran Chief Magistrate Arthur J. Boylan, who is scheduled to meet with the owners' representatives Wednesday and preside over face-to-face mediation with both sides starting Thursday.
Nelson ordered that both sides keep the mediation confidential. The sides tried mediation before, negotiating for 16 days in Washington with Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director George Cohen. Those talks ended March 11, allowing the collective bargaining agreement to expire.
Spokesmen for the owners and players didn't immediately comment on Nelson's ruling. The judge wrote in her three-page order that the mediation was a form of "alternative dispute resolution" to address the players' antitrust lawsuit (Brady vs. NFL) against the league.
While owners' attorneys have declared that mediation is most effectively done over the sides' collective-bargaining disagreements, the players argue that working to settle the lawsuit filed by star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and others is the best route to strike labor peace.
The former NFL Players Assn. decertified last month, and the players' group has expressed concern that anything other than lawsuit settlement talks would allow the owners to bolster their claim that decertification was a sham.
In her order, Nelson assured the players, "the fact of participation in this Court-ordered mediation … shall not be admitted or used against any party in any other proceeding or forum, for any purpose."
Nelson continues to weigh whether to impose a preliminary injunction against the owners' lockout of the players after hearing arguments in her courtroom last week. She urged the sides to engage in mediation at the end of that Wednesday hearing, but neither side moved significantly to do so.
The judge wrote in her order that the lockout injunction "remains under advisement, with an order to issue in due course."