NFL: Players pick up legal system on the fly

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS ó Vikings linebacker Ben Leber is fluent in zone dog blitzes and cover 2 dropbacks.
When it comes to the legalese, however, thatís another story. As the NFL labor fight moves from the mediation room to the court room, players are trying to learn the ins and outs of filing a lawsuit and the legal labyrinth that follows.
ěFor a player it can be frustrating at times, because now weíre in the hands of the legal system,î Leber said. ěNone of us are lawyers and we donít always understand the legalities of the dispute, so we just have to learn on the fly.î
Leber is one of the plaintiffs in a suit the players filed against the league last Friday and was a Vikings assistant player representative for the union before it decertified. He also sat in on some of the negotiating sessions in Washington a few weeks ago, so he is well versed in the complexities of the collective bargaining agreement.
But now that the dispute is headed to the courts, he finds himself having to do more to stay on top of the developments. Leber isnít reading ěLawsuits for Dummiesî or watching ěA Few Good Menî to get acquainted with the nuances, but he is consulting agents and lawyers and doing research on the Internet.
ěAs one of the player reps for the team Iím keeping in contact with the guys and with the union. Trying to amass as much knowledge as I can,î Leber said. ěSometimes, honestly, Iíve had to get on the Internet and (go) to legal websites to learn what these legal terms mean.î
Acquiring that knowledge is hard enough for a law student, let alone for a pro football player who has spent his adult life studying game film, not appellate court rulings.
In the most basic laymanís terms, 10 players including Leber, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have sued the league for anticompetitive practices in an attempt to force the NFL to end its labor lockout that began early Saturday.
ěComing into this whole situation with the CBA and the antitrust stuff, itís kind of complicated to us,î fourth-year Vikings safety Tyrell Johnson said. ěItís like learning a new language. Itís very foreign to me and a lot of younger players. The older players probably have a better idea about it..î
And itís not just the young guys who are having a difficult time getting the hang of it. Ravens center Matt Birk, who studied finance at Harvard, has tried to stay as educated as possible to help advise his teammates of the developments. But he said there comes a certain point where he has to sit back and let the attorneys do their jobs while he concentrates on readying for what he hopes will be his 14th NFL season.