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NFL Labor Dispute Through A Legal and Historical Perspective

Smith has the power. What is he going to do with it?
Smith has the power. What is he going to do with it?

The NFLPA decertified yesterday, which means that the union was dissolved. This isn't a good sign, the courts are going to get involved. The longer it runs, the more effect it has on our 49ers.

But, we live in an industrialized and free market economy, union disputes are the norm; and to pretend the NFL is free from that can border on ignorance.

In the 1950s the New York Yankees successfully argued in the United States Supreme Court that they were seperate from the Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890; this was the first major pro sports organization to actually de-ratify numerous act thats set precedent in the federal legislation sector. However, lower courts ignored this decision just six months later the U.S. Supreme Court wrote that football and basketball were not exempt from the Sherman Anti Trust Act, or any other federally mandated legislation. To this day, the only professional sports organization that is separate from federal anti-trust law is MLB. Microsoft, Apple, Wal-Mart etc... all fall into the category that the NFL is in; they are all guided by the same federally mandated anti-trust laws. So where does that leave us?

The NFLPA could argue that the NFL is violating the Interstate Commerce Clause which was first enacted in 1887. The clause limits the monopoly that an individual commodity or company can place on the purchasing public. Individual sales taxes are separate and defined within each state. For example, if you purchase an IPOD on EBAY from Missouri, you pay their sales tax, not the rate in which California applies its tax. Clearly defined the NFL is violating the Interstate Commerce and Fare Trade Acts by limiting its apparel rights to Reebok. The NFLPA could and should argue that by limiting production of NFL trademark material to Reebok, it is limiting competition to the mult-billion dollar product. Remember former 49er coach Mike Nolan wanting to wear a suite? Reebok had to specifically make him one in order for him to be able to wear it. This is what I am talking about.

Secondly, the NFL owners filed a law suit with the United States Supreme Court in 2010 that asked the high court to shield the NFL from anti-trust laws because they function business as a single entity. Meaning that although you have the NFL as an organization, 32 different teams function separate from the league guidelines. The Supreme Court heard the argument, but ruled against the owners. This set a precedent that the NFL is not separate from corporations like Microsoft and Apple.However, they did have a limited anti-trust exemption that includes the draft. All 32 teams exist within an organization, or company. This gives the NFLPA a nice hand to play when arguing their side in the 7th Circuit Court in Indianapolis.

Cornell University states that trusts are "concentrations of economic power in the hands of a few", the NFL clearly falls into this. 32 individuals control the finances of an entity called the NFL, they hold power, money and influence when coming to CBA issues, If Bill Gates were to lock out his workers at Microsoft, the issue would extend into the territory of the circuit courts, appeals court, and possibly the United States Supreme Court. The NFL isn't void of this circumstance, the courts have a right and a duty to get involved. However, the courts can only rule that the NFL violated the anti-trust laws, and cannot get involved on individual circumstances unless the NFLPA asks them to. In Manning-Brady-Brees v NFL, the players are only asking Dody to rule on the anti-trust issue and whether the NFL is exempt from it. Considering previous rulings from higher courts, Dody should rule in favor of the players. What does this all mean?

Within the next week the court should rule that the 2011 off-season should go forward exactly how the 2010 off-season did. There would be no salary cap, the Franchise and Transition Tags will remain etc... However, the ball would then be in the owners court to appeal the ruling, which could lead to a Supreme Court showdown. Once in appeal the NFL could ask for an injunction that sets aside the circuit court ruling and a lock out will remain. However, that is extremely unlikely. The 7th circuit court of appeals are more liberal and tend to side with unions in matters such as this. President Obama is pro-union and appointed three of the justices. The legal process could be an extended one, but precedent is on the side of the players in this situation.