For a long time professional athletes were workers in a business model that enjoyed anti-trust protection at the same time of keeping strict control of personnel. That changed in 1969 when Curt Flood, an outfielder for the National League Champion 1968 St. Louis Cardinals, was swapped by Cardinals’ management. He refused the assignment, sitting out two central years of his playing career while the situation was arbitrated.
That was also the era of rights legislation in the US and so the societal framework was ripe for the legal fight which Flood initiated and brought it to the American Supreme Court. Flood eventually lost, but did explain his position in his autobiographical memoir, “A Well Paid Slave.” Though Flood lost his case, professional athletes from all sports have reaped the benefits via modifications in their respective collective bargaining agreements. All professional athletes owe to Flood much gratitude.
Contemporary contract structures are managed by modified agreements. This year the National Basketball Association team-owners locked out the players and threatened to shut the league down for an entire season sans some labor concessions from the players. The athletes attempted to force them to open financial records for investigation. The owners refused.
It was clear that the players were largely skeptical of what might happen, remembering the Flood case which all pro players know well. The relationship is not closed for discussion, even though these groups did come to an agreement to get something out of the year fearing a massive decline in fans and TV broadcasts. The issues is still one of control of the industry. But, are the athletes slaves to team owners? Possibly, for the length of the deals.
Athletes don’t get guaranteed rights to free agency. New members of any pro sport need to play for a minimum number of years to be eligible for it. In addition, these newer players are given a minimum wage that is well in excess of what many pros from other careers get. Signing bonuses are given, but there is a catch.
The laws that regulate common contracting agents don’t apply per the collective bargaining agreement. And these contracts are the actual property of the owners that might be sold to another squad that is a party to the agreement. Pro sports commissioners can decline trade deals under specific conditions. Players who’ve garnered a lucrative contract based on play are quite often swapped during the contract life since teams often need to trade contracts financially. This serves to amounts to selling players.
These circumstances brings revisiting Flood’s landmark position in court, claiming that the commerce section of the US Constitution permits the freedom to reach and agreement with any franchise that he wants. Those who only sign a one-year agreement will have that independence, but most players swap that ability for major agreements that limit moves by the team managements whenever they want to unload a contract. Considering this, players are still “slaves” to the industry. But, they can choose to be free agents at any time they want merley by signing a one-year agreement.