Is Mediation for the NFL and the Players a Good Idea?

The dispute between the NFL and the players has been described as a case of billionaires fighting millionaires.  The NFL wants to renegotiate the terms of its contract with the players.  The players feel the requested changes are unfair.  Currently, there is a lockout in place that has been temporarily upheld by the Court.  A hearing is scheduled on the issue for June 3, 2011.    The parties attended voluntary mediation in Washington in March.  The Court ordered continued mediation, and the parties attended their sixth day of talks last week.
Is mediation a good idea for the players and the League?  The short answer is: “yes.”  Any time parties sit down to talk with a mediator (a neutral person trained in conflict resolution), there is the possibility of reaching an amicable solution.  That solution is almost always going to be better than litigating.
First, litigation takes time.  In this case, neither the parties nor the owners have time.  The 2011-2012 season depends on a quick decision, especially with training camps are scheduled to start in approximately two months.  Even if the Court issues a ruling early next month, one or both parties may be able to challenge the decision or instigate further litigation.  The ruling on the lock out is only one facet of the conflict.  Mediation can address conflicts quicker than litigation.
Second, litigation is risky.  When the stakes are so high, both parties have to mitigate the risk of losing.  No one can guess the outcome of litigation.  In a short period of time, there have been two contradictory rulings regarding which side of the dispute would suffer more irreparable injury with or without the lockout.  The parties, the fans and the economy will lose if the football season does not proceed.  A mediated agreement would reflect a compromise in which neither side gets everything it wants.  However, both sides would avoid a catastrophe.  In mediation, the parties fully consider the risks of litigation and the benefits of certainty.
Third, there is little to lose in trying mediation.  The Court confirmed that discussions must be confidential (as most mediations are), so no party is comprising its position in court or in the court of public opinion.
Will mediation work?  Mediation does work most of the time, and the fact that the parties have not yet reached an agreement in this highly complex and high stakes conflict is not a reflection on the efficacy of mediation.  Mediation does require some sort of desire to settle, and there have been some speculation that one or both parties are not really trying to resolve the conflict because of the impending ruling.  However, if both parties have some desire for resolution, mediation is the perfect forum to end conflict as advantageously as possible for all involved.

Alona M. Gottfried is a mediator and attorney in Arizona.  If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or alona(at)sglawaz.com.  This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice.  See a legal professional before making legal decisions.

Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
8160 E. Butherus Dr., Suite #7
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

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Alona M. Gottfried, Esq.
8160 E Butherus Dr, Suite #7 Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Phone: (480) 776-8271