Family emergency will keep NFLPA head Smith from mediation

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL and players are scheduled to resume court-ordered mediation Tuesday at 10 a.m. CT in the downtown chambers of U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, but a NFL Players Association spokesman said executive director DeMaurice Smith won't attend because of a family medical emergency.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will attend, heading a team that includes NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy.

Richardson and Bowlen co-chair the league's labor committee, on which Jones and Murphy also serve. Richardson attended the two mediation sessions last week, grouped with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II and Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt. In all, with tomorrow's additions, seven of 10 members of the league's labor committee will have appeared at this set of mediation sessions.

Boylan presided over 10 hours of mediation Thursday and another four hours Friday before adjourning out of, according to sources, recognition of the talks' sensitive spot. Sources have indicated that trust between the sides -- and specifically, trust of the other's motives -- continues to be a major issue, as it was during the 16 days of collective bargaining at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in late February and early March.

Those talks broke down March 11, the NFLPA decertified as a union and, after the collective bargaining agreement expired, the NFL locked out the players, 10 of whom filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league.

Mike Vrabel and Ben Leber were the plaintiffs represented last week as part of the Brady et al v. National Football League case, as was Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller, whose lawsuit (Eller et al v. National Football League et al) was consolidated with the other case earlier this month.

"We're dealing with real issues, and that is the lockout and the upcoming season," Eller said last week. "Those things are prevalent. Those are not luxuries or frivolous debt lines or points. These things are happening and approaching, and those things will approach.

"Tomorrow is going to come regardless of what we do here, so we have to work within that framework. In order to have a season, preserve a season, prepare for a season, those are real consequences."

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