Radovich v. National Football League
352 U.S. 445 (1957)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Radovich v. National Football League, 352 U.S. 445 (1957)

Radovich v. National Football League

No. 94

Argued January 17, 1957

Decided February 25, 1957

352 U.S. 445

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Alleging that respondents conspired to monopolize and control professional football in violation of the Sherman Act, petitioner sued them under § 4 of the Clayton Act for treble damages and injunctive relief. He alleged, inter alia, that respondents schedule football games in various cities, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles; that part of the business from which they derive a significant portion of their gross receipts is the transmission of the games over radio and television into nearly every State of the Union; that part of the conspiracy was to destroy a competitive league by boycotting it and its players; that each team uses a standard player contract which prohibits a player from signing with another club without the consent of the club holding his contract; that these contracts are enforced by agreement of the clubs to blacklist any player violating them and to visit severe penalties on recalcitrant member clubs; that, by blacklisting petitioner, they prevented him from becoming a player-coach in an affiliated league and effectively prevented his employment in organized professional football in the United States; and that this damaged him in the sum of $35,000.

Held:

1. The rule established in Federal Baseball Club v. National League,259 U. S. 200, and Toolson v. New York Yankees,346 U. S. 356, is specifically limited to the business of organized professional baseball, and does not control this case. Pp. 352 U. S. 449-452.

(a) As long as Congress continues to acquiesce, this Court should adhere to -- but not extend -- the interpretation of the Act made in those cases. P. 352 U. S. 451.

(b) If there be error or discrimination in these rulings, the orderly way to eliminate it is by legislation, and not be court decision. P. 352 U. S. 452.

2. The volume of interstate business involved in organized professional football places it within the provisions of the Antitrust Acts. P. 352 U. S. 452.

3. The complaint states a cause of action, and petitioner is entitled to an opportunity to prove his charges. Pp. 352 U. S. 446-449, 352 U. S. 453-454.

231 F.2d 620 reversed.

Page 352 U. S. 446

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This action for treble damages and injunctive relief, brought under § 4 of the Clayton Act, [Footnote 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 respondents [Footnote 2]

Page 352 U. S. 447

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; [Footnote 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, 231 F.2d 620, on the basis of Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore v. National League,259 U. S. 200 (1922), and Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc.,346 U. S. 356 (1953), 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,348 U. S. 236 (1955), 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 623. We granted certiorari, 352 U.S. 818, 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 control;

Page 352 U. S. 448

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. [Footnote 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 blacklisting effectively prevented his employment in organized professional football in the United States.

2. The blacklisting 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

Page 352 U. S. 449

Sherman Act. It was part of the conspiracy to boycott 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 blacklist 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

Page 352 U. S. 450

been held by this Court to be outside the scope of the antitrust laws. [Footnote 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. [Footnote 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,348 U. S. 222 (1955). 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. [Footnote 7] All this, combined with the flood of litigation that would follow its repudiation, the harassment

Page 352 U. S. 451

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 at 346 U. S. 357. The Court reiterated this in United States v. Shubert, supra, at 348 U. S. 230, 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 at 348 U. S. 242. 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. at 348 U. S. 242

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