Here Come D’Judge … Tuesday Cup O’Chiefs

He may be the most powerful person involved in the current labor situation between the NFL and its players.

And that fact drives NFL owners crazy.

His name is David Singleton Doty, known for the last 24 years as Judge David Doty of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. He’s an 81-year old native of Minnesota, a former Marine who still has a ceremonial sword from his military days hanging on the wall of his office in downtown Minneapolis.

More than once since he became involved in the NFL and its labor business in the early 1990s, league owners have felt like that sword has come off the wall and struck them down. It was rulings by Doty in 1989, 1992 and 1993 that set up the current system of free agency in the league. It was three years ago that he ruled that Michael Vick did not have to return all of his $20 million in bonus money after he was arrested, found guilty and imprisoned on dog fighting charges. He paid back $3.5 million and kept the other $16.5 million.

After that decision, the NFL filed with the Court of Appeals for Doty’s removal from all actions in the future that were related to the NFL. That appeal was rejected.

Then last week, Doty was part of the fray again when he ruled against the league and for the players on the $4 billion in TV revenue that the owners were counting on using as a lockout fund for the 32 teams. That knocked the legs out from under the NFL’s lockout plan and forced the expanded negotiations and a week-long extension of the labor agreement.

“I don’t think the 32 owners of the NFL could agree to anything except that they would all like to see Judge Doty go away,” said a league official who asked not to be named. “That would be a unanimous vote and they would all drive the car, or give up their plane to take him away.”

For his part, Doty does not do interviews with the media involving the NFL and the players.

So why does this octogenarian judge from Minnesota have all this power over the NFL, and why do the players love him and the owners despise his presence?

The answers are part of a 25-year trip down memory lane to the time that Doty became part of the NFL landscape. From 1987 through 1993, various groups of NFL players filed anti-trust suits against the league. This came after a month-long strike in the ’87 season and the decertification of the players association at the time. It was all part of the union’s plan to create a legitimate free agency system in the league for the first time.

Because many of the lawyers that worked on those early cases were out of the Twin Cities area, that’s where the actions were filed and that’s how some of them landed in the courtroom of Doty. Appointed to the bench in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, Doty started making rulings that pushed the disagreements towards compromise and solutions. There were moments when the NFL owners dug in their heels. Their stubbornness, money and high-priced legal reps did nothing to impress the judge.

Eventually, the labor agreement establishing free agency with a salary cap was established in 1993-94. Those involved at the time acknowledged then that an agreement got done because both sides believed that Judge Doty was going to impose his own plan on the league and neither side wanted that scenario.

The restricted-unrestricted free agency plan began in 1993, with the salary cap kicking in for the 1994 season. They ran through the 2009 season and then without the salary cap last season. It brought long awaited labor peace to the league, allowing it to grow into America’s favorite professional sport.

Wrapped into the agreement was the law suit filed by the late DT Reggie White and other players in 1993. The settlement of that suit was part of the collective bargaining agreement and established Judge Doty as the gatekeeper to this peace. Over the years, many legal fights between the league and players have ended up in his Minneapolis courtroom. More often than not, Doty has ruled for the players.

No other major professional sports league has to deal with a situation like the Judge Doty-NFL relationship. Part of the current negotiations includes the league convincing the players to remove Doty from the equation. Naturally, the NFLPA is not supportive of that idea.

Which brings us to the now. Here is a list of recent rulings involved in the current situation:

  • June 6, 2010 – the NFLPA filed suit against the NFL and their handling of the television negotiations and revenue for the 2011 season. The CBA says that the league must maximize its revenue opportunities, but the union charged that the league gave concessions and less than market rights fees in 2009 and 2010 in exchange for guaranteed payments from the TV networks in 2011, whether games were played or not. These payments in ’11 totaling just over $4 billion were the owners’ lockout fund.
  • February 1, 2011 – all disagreements between the NFL and the NFLPA must first go before a Special Master and any appeal of his rulings can then be taken to federal court. On this day, Special Master Stephen Burbank ruled on two avenues. He ruled against the league on one item, announcing $6.9 million in damages to the union. On the second item, he ruled against the players, saying the league did nothing wrong.
  • February 2, 2011 – the NFLPA files an appeal in Doty’s court on the second part of Burbank’s decision.
  • March 1, 2011 – Judge Doty rules against the league, agreeing with the players that the NFL did not maximize revenues in negotiations with the TV networks. He makes the $4 billion in revenue off-limits to owners for now, and establishes that the players are owed damages.

For now, Judge David Doty sits in his Minneapolis office, that Marine Crops sword on his wall, preparing to help the league and players slice up that $9 billion a year in revenue.


  • RAIDERS – named Chuck Bresnahan defensive coordinator.
  • STEELERS – named Carnell Lake as defensive backs coach.

8 Responses to “Here Come D’Judge … Tuesday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • March 8, 2011  - Fansince93 says:

    Interesting story, thanks Bob.

  • March 8, 2011  - Nate says:

    Very good article. I think that when the new CBA is done, every football fan in America should send Judge Doty a thank you card. It is obvious that the owners were preparing a brazen plan to break the back of the players with there $4Billion “rathole fund”. Had Judge Doty not ruled that the owners couldn’t use those funds when games weren’t being played we fans would be without football for a long time. It is obvious that boss hog Jerry Jones and his cronies don’t give a damn about the fans. For that matter, neither do the players. The other hole card is that if the union decertifies and files a anti-trust lawsuit against the league, they know they will be back in front of Judge Doty. The only friend that the fans have in this matter is Judge Doty!

  • March 8, 2011  - RedCross says:

    Sorry Nate, I won’t be sending one. The Judge is not the friend of the fans, but of the players. His decisions are not even handed. I have no evidence of this, but I would guess he is strongly pro-union. Just to be open and honest, I am strongly anti-union. However in this fight I am neither for the owners or for the players. I think both need to give. Given that Doty is in the player’s pocket, (not suggesting he is taking $$)I think the player’s union will win out. It’s not a fair fight.

  • March 8, 2011  - RW says:

    One could make a comparison of sorts between home owners and NFL franchise owners in the 2000s. The value of each of their investments continued to spiral upward until the mortgage/banking crisis hit for the homeowners causing their holdings to plumet downward.

    The owners, feeling the overall pinch of the economy, have seen their holdings retain if not slightly improve their value but are about to join the homeowners if they stand in lockstep to a lockout and the subsequent devaluing of their franchises tied to the length of the lockout.

    So, who has the hooch (leverage) right now? The owners can probably hold out longer, knowing the financial strain on the players will weaken their will. Meantime the players can make their case that the owners are losing franchise value the longer this lockout, if it happens, lasts.

    I think the strength of the mediator will ultimately prevail IF he can find middle ground agreement on the major areas, i.e., a series of compromises both sides can agree to while holding their noses to do so. Short of that, I’m seeing a prolonged holdout with casualties all around.

  • March 8, 2011  - el cid says:

    Looking at it a little outside the box, it is funny how the fans can take side about who is in the wrong or right or in between. Like the players, millionaires. Like the owners, billionaires. Elevator, elevator, who get the shaft, the fans (locally how ’bout those Jackson county tax payers?).

  • March 8, 2011  - Nate says:

    Hey RedCross I think you missed my point. I am for the fans and for football being played. I am a retired CEO so I assure you I am not pro union.The point I am making is that Judge Doty is the one person in America who has the clout to make the owners stay at the table and get a deal done. I can assure you if Judge Doty had not ruled that the owners could not use their $4billion tv money during a lockout and strike, thats where we would already be.

  • March 9, 2011  - RedCross says:

    Nate, okay thank you for the clarification. I see your point and believe you are correct about the owners locking out. It does certainly put them in a bind and more willing to compromise. Probably that is best for the game and fans. I do think overall the judge has not been evenhanded or unbiased. Like you I am hoping this last decision works out for the best for everyone.

  • March 11, 2011  - cychief24 says:

    So Redcross and Nate.
    I assume you work 14-16 hour days with no break, no paid holidays, no sick leave, no vacation, 7 days a week, and have your wife and 10 year old kids working in unsafe conditions for less than minimum wage.
    That’s what America was like before Unions.

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