NFLPA eyes April 6 court date after wrapping up meetings

MARCO ISLAND, Fla. -- NFL players concluded their annual meetings Thursday while receiving words of support from former players.

The NFL Players Association dissolved as a union hours before being locked out by the league March 11. Now it looks toward April 6, when a lawsuit filed by 10 players requesting an injunction to end the lockout will be heard in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minn.

Nolan Harrison, the director of former player services for the NFLPA, said 215 former players spoke with members of the organization's executive board, executive director DeMaurice Smith and current players during the last few days.

"Letting our guys know what the course is from here and where we are as an association, that's one of the main things this was about," Harrison said, adding the former players have been briefed on the lawsuit.

"All of us realize we are teammates, from the guys who play today to the guys who wore leather helmets. Every generation was represented, from guys my dad watched play to my former teammates to guys who were in preschool when I played."

Smith met with leaders of the former players, held a question-and-answer session with all the veterans and gave a speech encouraging unity, Harrison said.

More than 100 current players attended nine days of meetings. Harrison encouraged them to speak with former players who were involved in the 1987 strike to "get firsthand knowledge of what it's like and what will happen."

No negotiations are scheduled, although earlier this week Smith did invite NFL lawyers to discuss a settlement of the lawsuit -- a request the league turned down. The two sides last met March 11 at a federal mediator's office in Washington. Talks collapsed, and the union decertified. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and seven others put their names on the lawsuit, then the NFL enacted the lockout.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urged a renewal of negotiations several times during the owners' meetings this week.

"The faster we can get back to mediation, the faster we will get an agreement," Goodell said. "We made a lot of progress in mediation. The 17 days we were there forced us all to consider our positions, find the common ground, negotiate and come up with solutions for the issues that we've all addressed that are important to the game, important to the players and important to the clubs. I'm hopeful that we'll get back there and resume them."

But Harrison noted the optimism by the players -- current and former -- about prospects for victory in court.

"We put together an agreement between the leadership here that supports all the NFLPA is trying to accomplish in the class action," he said. "There was unanimous support for the class-action suit."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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