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11 veterans sue NFL, claim preseason salary fixing


Eleven veteran football players filed a class-action suit yesterday against the NFL, alleging that team owners are fixing salaries during the seven-week preseason, costing them tens of thousands of dollars.

The suit, being brought under the guidance and financial support of the NFL Players Association, asks for treble damages, which if successful could cost the 28 teams an estimated $50 million.

At issue is how much veteran players get paid during the seven-week preseason. The issue is especially important for veteran players who get cut during training camp or early in the season.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, argues that under the standard NFL player contract, owners are required to pay non-rookies 10 percent of their annual salaries, equally divided over the seven-week preseason -- as long as no formal collective bargaining agreement is in place.

The NFL clubs instead pay veterans a fixed rate of $500 to $700 a week, normally a much smaller amount than the percentage, during the preseason. The average annual salary for veteran players exceeds $400,000 a year, according to the players association.

"Over the past several NFL preseasons, the NFL clubs have conspired to save themselves tens of millions of dollars" by ignoring the 10 percent requirement, said Joseph "Chip" Yablonski, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the players.

"The union's lawsuit, at best, is another publicity stunt and, more likely, a sham," NFL spokesman Joe Browne said. "It adds nothing but phony claims to litigation already pending in the courts in New York as part of a union-sponsored suit filed last March.

"Claims like those filed today were rejected by federal courts in the 1970s. It is ironic that while our clubs are currently meeting in Dallas to deal seriously with a labor proposal for the players, the union files yet another suit that benefits only NFLPA lawyers, not NFL players."

* Frank Kush has decided not to accept a job as head coach of the new Arena Football League team in Phoenix.

Phoenix Suns president Jerry Colangelo said his ownership group, which received approval for the franchise Wednesday, would begin interviewing other candidates.

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