For the first time since the clock struck its proverbial midnight and the NFL players union dissolved and filed suit in a St. Paul federal court, the NFL and the players association are going to start talking and, if some of the early buzz bears fruit, there is a minor glimmer of hope that progress can be achieved.
U.S District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered both sides to enter into mediation, but they wanted the discussion in different forums. The NFL asked that the discussion return to Washington D.C. to continue talks under the same mediator (George Cohen) and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service that had conducted marathon sessions in the countdown to the decertification of the players union. The players asked that Judge Nelson assign mediation in the federal court system.
Judge Nelson ordered that the mediation be assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan of Minneapolis to serve as mediator. Judge Boylan is set to meet with representatives of the players today and the NFL on Wednesday. Mediation talks will begin Thursday.
The decision is interesting in a couple of respects. At face value, it would appear to be another legal victory for the players. In the end, they got what they sought. In light of the decision from Judge David Doty that would not allow the owners to access a strike war chest from the league's television contract, by all appearances, Judge Nelson's decision is a win for the players.
However, once in the legal process, the focus will be on the issues that were set forth in the case filed by the players. If nothing else, they will be able to eliminate issues on which they agree. On those that they don't agree, Nelson ruled, they must try to find negotiated common ground. Some are taking it as a signal that an agreement in principle can be reached in the next couple of weeks and that the NFL can resume business and not go through what many outside observers believe is an unnecessary civil war.
In the order, Judge Nelson said the mediation won't serve as a way to dismiss the antitrust accusations being made by the players, but should serve as a forum for the two sides to reach an amicable agreement to potentially avoid would could be a case that drags through the court system for years.
While many are dismissing the narrow time window as little more than a required step to move forward, there are some that see the next two weeks as a chance to stop the NFL's Cold War and avoid a fight that will leave both sides beaten and battered, neither satisfied and their fan base questioning why it ever had to happen in the first place.
In essence, Judge Nelson has provided an avenue to avert a civil war between players and owners through logical discussion and concessions from both sides to reach peace – a hard and bitter peace perhaps, but peace nonetheless.
For doomsayers, Monday's ruling meant little. For those who want to think the glass is half full, this decision is a second chance to accomplish what failed a little more than a month ago. Second chances are nice, especially if you take advantage of them.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.