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NFL Players Ready to Work After Judge Blocks Lockout, Smith Says

National Football League players should be able to go back to work now that a judge has blocked the month-old lockout and refused a league request to put the decision on hold, DeMaurice Smith said.

“The lockout is lifted,” Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in an interview yesterday at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. “We expect the NFL to issue a set of rules governing how players engage in the business of football from this point forward.”

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson this week ended the lockout of players, granting an injunction in a class-action lawsuit that accuses the NFL of antitrust violations and wage fixing. The judge yesterday refused to delay implementing the decision while the league lodges an appeal.

The NFL said last night it applied to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay of the injunction.

“We have asked the Court of Appeals to consider on an expedited basis both our request for a stay and the appeal itself,” the league said in a statement e-mailed by spokesman Greg Aiello. “There are strong legal and practical reasons that support a stay.”

Players asked Nelson to order the league to post a $1 billion bond to indemnify players for any salary lost if 2011 season games are canceled and the lockout is ultimately ruled illegal.

The most-watched and richest sport in the U.S. shut down on March 12 after owners and players failed to reach a deal on how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenue, the most of any sports league.

Decertification, Lawsuit

The NFLPA said it no longer would act as a union in collective bargaining and filed the lawsuit behind Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

Lawyers for the owners and players, at Nelson’s urging, have engaged in four days of talks mediated by U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan in Minneapolis. That process is scheduled to resume May 16. Smith said he’s not allowed to discuss the status of mediation.

Smith, who made his comments before Nelson refused the stay, is in New York City to welcome rookies selected in the draft, which begins today at Radio City Music Hall. The fanfare surrounding the event won’t be diminished by the uncertainty created by the labor dispute, Smith said.

“The draft has become a celebration of our young men and their families coming into the business of football,” he said.

Smith will welcome rookies at a series of events, beginning today with a reception at a Times Square hotel.

He then expects to return to talks with owners over subjects including expanding the regular season by two games to 18, a rookie salary cap and health care for players.

Return to Business

Judge Nelson’s decision means teams should be allowed to trade players and sign free agents as they make their picks, Smith said.

“Now that the lockout has been lifted, there is absolutely nothing that prevents free agents from being signed, from players being signed, from trades occurring,” Smith said. “My hope is that business does get back to normal.”

The league is awaiting clarification from the court on those issues, Aiello said in an e-mail yesterday.

New York Jets offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who has a $750,000 bonus in his contract that’s tied to offseason workouts, was among players who reported to the team’s practice facility in Florham Park, New Jersey, following Nelson’s injunction, the Star-Ledger of Newark reported.

NFL training camps usually open in July and August. The regular season is scheduled to begin Sept. 8.

“A judge found that the owners’ lockout violated the law and lifted it,” Smith said. “While we’re happy about the current state of things, I have to come to a conclusion that the world of players suing to keep football and owners suing to stop football is less than our fans and our players deserve.”

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