MINNEAPOLIS -- While NFL owners and players appear to be inching toward a resolution of the league's lengthy lockout, a group of retired players is clamoring to be more involved in the discussions.
The group filed a class-action complaint against the owners and current players in federal court Monday, saying they have been excluded from the mediation sessions taking place in an attempt to end the lockout.
Named plaintiffs including Hall of Famers Carl Eller, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen and Paul Krause are asking U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson to put a halt to the mediation she ordered and declare that the current players cannot negotiate on behalf of those who are retired.
Owners and current players have met five times over the last few weeks as they work to put together a new collective bargaining agreement in time to avoid the loss of training camps and games. They met with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan in Minneapolis last week, including for more than 15 hours Thursday, and will resume meetings Tuesday in New York.
The retired players say that NFL owners; the NFL Players Association and a group of current players, including star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, are "conspiring to depress the amounts of pension and disability benefits to be paid to former NFL players in order to maximize the salaries and benefits to current NFL players."
The NFL declined comment on the complaint, which was first reported by The New York Times. The Associated Press left a message for an NFLPA spokesman seeking comment.
The complaint gets to the heart of an issue that has been building for quite some time. Retired players have felt marginalized in the dispute over how to divide more than $9 billion in revenue.
After the owners locked out the players in March, the NFLPA disbanded, and a group of them sued the league for antitrust violations. A small group of retired players, including Eller, Obafemi Ayanbadejo and Ryan Collins, filed their own lawsuit against the league seeking more help for medical treatments of former players and better pensions.
Nelson combined the two lawsuits, and several representatives of the retired players, including Eller and attorney Michael Hausfeld, were present at early mediation sessions in Minneapolis. But as talks have heated up and the venue has shifted from the Twin Cities to Maryland, Massachussetts, Illinois and back to Minneapolis again over the last month or so, the retired players haven't been present.
This hasn't sat well with them, and lawyers for the group have sent letters to Boylan, lobbied NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and held intense media briefings to make their feelings known.
The complaint said the players' decision to decertify their union makes it an antitrust violation for the owners and current players to negotiate for retired players.
It also alleges that the NFL had said it would tap revenue streams both from within and outside the salary cap to help retired players, but union representatives, including executive director DeMaurice Smith, want all the money delegated for the cap to be given to current players.
"Through the settlement they are forging, the Brady plaintiffs, the NFLPA and the NFL defendants are conspiring to set retiree benefits and pension levels at artificially low levels," the complaint alleged.
If Nelson rejects the motion for an injunction on the mediation, the retired players are asking for treble damages.
It wasn't immediately clear what kind of impact the filing would have on the continuing talks between the owners and current players. They were scheduled to resume Tuesday, with the open of training camp less than three weeks away and the preseason opener between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams slated for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press