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NFL Head Met in Secret With Owners, Players

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and several team owners met the last two days for mediation talks between NFL Players' Association chief DeMaurice Smith, a group of players and a U.S. magistrate judge.

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The group engaged in confidential talks before Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, according to a NFL-NFLPA statement released Thursday. The court ordered the confidentiality of the mediation talks.

Judge Boylan was scheduled to resume mediation sessions June 7 but got the sides together early.

A person with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press that the sessions began Tuesday and ended Wednesday near Chicago. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were supposed to be secret. The person says various issues were discussed, but "to characterize it as progress might not be accurate."

A court hearing in St. Louis on the NFL's appeal of a ruling blocking its lockout of the players begins Friday. That ruling was stayed by an appeals panel last month.

Not all the 32 team owners were made aware of the meetings before they began. In the past, a clandestine approach has been a step toward successful negotiations between the league and NFLPA. Such meetings between former union executive director Gene Upshaw and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue often led to progress on a new collective bargaining agreement.

"Both sides understand there needs to be a timetable toward getting an agreement," one of the people with knowledge of the talks said. "There's hope this will speed up that timetable."

The hearing in St. Louis on the NFL's appeal of a ruling blocking its lockout begins Friday. Lifting the lockout was delayed by an appeals panel until the full appeal could be heard. Goodell, Smith and several owners are expected to be in court Friday.

But the 8th District's Court of Appeals is not expected to rule on the legality of the lockout for weeks. So a resumption of talks in the interim could speed a deal, and the cancellation of the mediation sessions could indicate more meetings like those in the Chicago suburbs the last three days are on tap.