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NFL suffers a double setback

A federal court jury on Monday awarded 235 NFL players a total of $30-million in damages from the 28 teams for fixing wages of practice players.

The five-woman, three-man jury agreed that the $1,000-a-week wage paid to members of six-man developmental squads during the 1989 season was less than they would have earned if they had been free to negotiate their own contracts.

After deliberating less than a day, the jury awarded the players all of the $10-million in damages they claimed. Under antitrust laws, the awards were tripled.

In a separate ruling Monday, the National Labor Relations Board affirmed a March 1991 decision that the league broke federal labor law during the 1987 player strike and must pay $30-million to the 1,100 players who joined the walkout.

NLRB administrative law judge Benjamin Schlesinger, in his 1991 decision, said the clubs owe the money because they shorted the players a week's salary after the strike ended.

"It was a double whammy for the NFL today," said Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league will appeal both the jury verdict and the NLRB decision.

He said the jury verdict "lacks common sense since it rewards a group of individuals who failed to make their NFL teams but who now may receive more money for merely practicing in 1989 than many active players earned that year for participating in all 16 regular-season games."

In March, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the 28 NFL teams violated antitrust laws when they set the uniform salary for practice players, mostly rookies who failed to make the 47-man active roster.

The players then filed the class action suit, claiming as a basis for damages the negotiated wage they would have earned if they made active rosters, an average $5,189 per week over the 16-week season.

Tony Brown, lead plaintiff for the players, stands to gain three times the $146,000 he demanded in damages. The developmental squad member with the Buffalo Bills now works for a Phoenix radio station and said his decision to sue probably hastened the end of his football career.

The former offensive lineman said his Miami Dolphin teammates in 1990 "told me you're taking a whipping for a lot of us" when he took the league to court.

It was the second time in a month the NFL has lost an antitrust case. On Sept. 10, a federal judge in Minneapolis ruled that the league's Plan B, under which teams could protect 37 players every year, violated federal antitrust laws. That could open the way for hundreds of players to negotiate with other teams as free agents next year.

Around the league

Dolphins: Reserve cornerback Chris Green was lost for the rest of the year after tearing ligaments in his right knee against the Bills on Sunday. He will require surgery.

Bills: Jim Kelly might miss a practice after rupturing a bursar sac in his right elbow in Sunday's loss to Miami, but he won't miss Sunday's game against the Raiders. Coach Marv Levy said the initial review by the team's medical staff indicated no serious injury.