NFL, NFLPA have legal history in Minneapolis

For all intents with the Vikings, Adrian Peterson’s case is over. But when it comes to the NFL and NFLPA, Minneapolis continues to see the legal battles.

Once again, the center of the NFL universe is going to come to Minneapolis, where U.S. District Court Judge David Doty will be waiting for them.

The NFL Players Association will have its grievance against Commissioner Roger Goodell heard in Doty’s court Aug. 13.

On May 19, the players association filed suit in federal court to hold Goodell in contempt for not complying with a court ruling that reinstated Adrian Peterson. Doty ruled in February that the NFL acted outside of the collective bargaining agreement by putting Peterson on a suspension longer than two games after serving time on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.

Instead, after the ruling, Goodell placed Peterson back on the exempt list until mid-April, when it was deemed his suspension was up. While the court case won’t directly impact Peterson, the NFLPA is looking to get a legal precedent set that Goodell can’t serve as suspension judge and the NFL have its own arbitrator.

In his February ruling, Doty asked that the case be sent back to NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson, who has consistently ruled in favor of the NFL in union disputes. The NFLPA contends that Goodell instructed Henderson not make a decision on Doty’s ruling until after the NFL’s appeal of the decision is heard in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

For those wondering why Minneapolis has become the center of the NFL legal system and why Doty has become a public figure as a result, it has been a long and storied history for the NFL and the players union.

As the players union continued to gain little to no ground against the NFL in collective bargaining – the owners had the hammer and they knew it – the NFLPA could fight the NFL’s power over its employees in court by using an antitrust component. The union could claim antitrust as a violation of federal labor law.

In the mid-1970s, Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey was the president of the players union at a time for contract negotiations with the NFL, which were largely a “take it or leave it” proposition from haughty owners. Two members of the negotiating committee – Pat Richter of the Redskins and Ken Bowman of the Packers – both went to law school at the University of Wisconsin. Mackey asked them to ask their most respected law professor (Nathan Feinsinger) who the union should hire as a labor counsel.

The answer? Leonard Lindquist of the law firm of Lindquist & Vennum, based out of Minneapolis. One of the firm’s partners – Edward Glennon – became the union’s lead attorney for litigation. Glennon filed suit in Minneapolis claiming that what came to be known as the “Rozelle Rule” was a violation of antitrust laws.

The Rozelle Rule, named after then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle, was termed as the practice that if another team signed a free agent, the team he played for was due compensation of players, draft picks or both. If the teams couldn’t reach an agreement, Rozelle would arbitrate a compensation package. The penalty often was so onerous to a team signing a player that the owners quietly conspired not to participate in free agency and free agency was rarely if ever a viable option.

U.S. District Court Earl Larson ruled in favor of the players association and the long road to free agency was on and it was based out of Minneapolis, which became one of the jurisdictions of record for hearing NFL labor relations issues.

Doty was the judge of record in what became known as the Reggie White case, which came shortly after Doty presided over a jury trial over the legality of the NFL’s Plan B free agency, which allowed Tier 2 free agents to move from team to team. Since then, Doty has been a go-to guy for legal cases and, most notably, was the judge assigned to hear the dispute that led to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

Whether or not it will make big news that the union is looking to find Goodell in contempt or not, just as players dread an appeal that is arbitrated by Henderson, the NFL heading into Doty’s court has rarely been something viewed as positive for the league.

On Aug. 13, NFL teams will be gearing up during their training camps in preparation for the 2015 season, but the biggest news may be taking place in a Minneapolis courtroom, with a familiar league nemesis in charge of the proceedings.


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