Radovich v. National Football League

Decision Date25 February 1957
Docket NumberNo. 94,94
Citation1 L.Ed.2d 456,352 U.S. 445,77 S.Ct. 390
PartiesWilliam RADOVICH, Petitioner, v. NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, Bert Bell, J. Rufus Klawans, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 353 U.S. 931, 77 S.Ct. 716.

Mr. Maxwell Keith, San Francisco, Cal., for the petitioner.

Mr. Philip Elman, Washington, D.C., for the United States, as amicus curiae.

Messrs. Marshall E. Leahy, San Francisco, Cal., and Bernard I. Nordlinger, Washington, D.C., for the respondents.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This action for treble damages and injunctive relief, brought under § 4 of the Clayton Act,1 tests the application of the antitrust laws to the business of professional football. Petitioner Radovich, an all-pro guard formerly with the Detroit Lions, contends that the respondents2 entered into a conspiracy to monopolize and control organized professional football in the United States, in violation of §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act;3 that part of the conspiracy was to destroy the All-America Conference, a competitive professional football league in which Radovich once played; and that pursuant to agreement, respondents boycotted Radovich and prevented him from becoming a player-coach in the Pacific Coast League. Petitioner alleges that respondents' illegal conduct damaged him in the sum of $35,000, to be trebled as provided by the Act. The trial court, on respondents' motion, dismissed the cause for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The Court of Appeals affirmed, 9 Cir., 231 F.2d 620, on the basis of Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore v. National League, 1922, 259 U.S. 200, 42 S.Ct. 465, 66 L.Ed. 898, and Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc., 1953, 346 U.S. 356, 74 S.Ct. 78, 98 L.Ed. 64, applying the baseball rule to all 'team sports.' It further found that even if such application was erroneous and that United States v. International Boxing Club, 1955, 348 U.S. 236, 75 S.Ct. 259, 99 L.Ed. 290, applied, Radovich had not grounded his claim on conduct of respondents which was 'calculated to prejudice the public or unreasonably restrain interstate commerce.' 231 F.2d at page 623. We granted certiorari, 352 U.S. 818, 77 S.Ct. 34, in order to clarify the application of the Toolson doctrine and determine whether the business of football comes within the scope of the Sherman Act. For the reasons hereafter stated we conclude that Toolson and Federal Base Ball do not con- trol; that the respondents' activities as alleged are within the coverage of the antitrust laws; and that the complaint states a cause of action thereunder.

I.

Since the complaint was dismissed its allegations must be taken by us as true. It is, therefore, important for us to consider what Radovich alleged. Concisely the complaint states that:

1. Radovich began his professional football career in 1938 when he signed with the Detroit Lions, a National League Club. After four seasons of play he entered the Navy, returning, to the Lions for the 1945 season. In 1946 he asked for a transfer to a National League club in Los Angeles because of the illness of his father. The Lions refused the transfer and Radovich broke his player contract by signing with and playing the 1946 and 1947 seasons for the Los Angeles Dons, a member of the All-America Conference.4 In 1948 the San Francisco Clippers, a member of the Pacific Coast League which was affiliated with but not a competitor of the National League, offered to employ Radovich as a player-coach. However, the National League advised that Radovich was blacklisted and any affiliated club signing him would suffer severe penalties. The Clippers then refused to sign him in any position. This black-listing effectively prevented his employment in organized professional football in the United States.

2. The black-listing was the result of a conspiracy among the respondents to monopolize commerce in professional football among the States. The purpose of the conspiracy was to 'control, regulate and dictate the terms upon which organized professional football shall be played throughout the United States' in violation of §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act. It was part of the conspiracy to boy-cott the All-America Conference and its players with a view to its destruction and thus strengthen the monopolistic position of the National Football League.

3. As part of its football business, the respondent league and its member teams schedule football games in various metropolitan centers, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Each team uses a standard player contract which prohibits a player from signing with another club without the consent of the club holding the player's contract. These contracts are enforced by agreement of the clubs to black-list any player violating them and to visit severe penalties on recalcitrant member clubs. As a further 'part of the business of professional football itself' and 'directly tied in and connected' with its football exhibitions is the transmission of the games over radio and television into nearly every State of the Union. This is accomplished by contracts which produce a 'significant portion of the gross receipts' and without which 'the business of operating a professional football club would not be profitable.' The playing of the exhibitions themselves 'is essential to the interstate transmission by broadcasting and television' and the actions of the respondents against Radovich were necessarily related to these interstate activities.

In the light of these allegations respondents raise two issues: They say the business of organized professional football was not intended by Congress to be included within the scope of the antitrust laws; and, if wrong in this contention, that the complaint does not state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted.

II.

Respondents' contention, boiled down, is that agreements similar to those complained of here, which have for many years been used in organized baseball, have been held by this Court to be outside the scope of the antitrust laws. 5 They point to Federal Base Ball and Toolson, supra, both involving the business of professional baseball, asserting that professional football has embraced the same techniques which existed in baseball at the time of the former decision.6 They contend that stare decisis compels the same result here. True, the umbrella under which respondents hope to stand is not so large as that contended for in United States v. International Boxing Club, supra, nor in United States v. Shubert, 1955, 348 U.S. 222, 75 S.Ct. 277, 99 L.Ed. 279. There we were asked to extend Federal Base Ball to boxing and the theater. Here respondents say that the contracts and sanctions which baseball and football find it necessary to impose have no counterpart in other businesses and that, therefore, they alone are outside the ambit of the Sherman Act. In Toolson we continued to hold the umbrella over baseball that was placed there some 31 years earlier by Federal Base Ball. The Court did this because it was concluded that more harm would be done in overruling Federal Base Ball than in upholding a ruling which at best was of dubious validity. Vast efforts had gone into the development and organization of baseball since that decision and enormous capital had been invested in reliance on its permanence. Congress had chosen to make no change.7 All this, combined with the flood of litigation that would follow its repudiation, the harass- ment that would ensue, and the retroactive effect of such a decision, led the Court to the practical result that it should sustain the unequivocal line of authority reaching over many years.

The Court was careful to restrict Toolson's coverage to baseball, following the judgment of Federal Base Ball only so far as it 'determines that Congress had no intention of including the business of baseball within the scope of the federal antitrust laws.' Supra, 346 U.S. at page 357, 74 S.Ct. at page 79. The Court reiterated this in United States v. Shubert, supra, 348 U.S. at page 230, 75 S.Ct. at page 282, where it said, 'In short, Toolson was a narrow application of the rule of stare decisis.' And again, in International Boxing Club, it added, 'Toolson neither overruled Federal Baseball nor necessarily reaffirmed all that was said in Federal Baseball. * * * Toolson is not authority for exempting other businesses merely because of the circumstance that they are also based on the performance of local exhibitions.' Supra, 348 U.S. at page 242, 75 S.Ct. at page 262. Furthermore, in discussing the impact of the Federal Baseball decision, the Court made the observation that that decision 'could not be relied upon as a basis of exemption for other segments of the entertainment business, athletic or otherwise. * * * The controlling consideration in Federal Baseball * * * was * * * the degree of interstate activity involved in the particular business under review.' Id., 348 U.S. at pages 242—243, 75 S.Ct. at page 262. It seems that this language would have made it clear that the Court intended to isolate these cases by limiting them to baseball, but since Toolson and Federal Base Ball are still cited as controlling authority in antitrust actions involving other fields of business, we now specifically limit the rule there established to the facts there involved, i.e., the business of organized professional baseball. As long as the Congress continues to acquiesce we should adhere to—but not extend—the interpretation of the Act made in those cases. We did not extend them to boxing or the theater because we believed that the volume of interstate business in each—the rationale of Federal Base Ball—was such that both activities were within the Act. Likewise, the volume of interstate business involved in organized professional football places it within the provisions of the Act.

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