Professor Robert A. McCormick of the Michigan State Law School penned this op-ed on the Clarett case. McCormick is one of the lawyers representing Clarett in his lawsuit against the NFL. Here is the key part:
Is the NFL rule, in existence for some 70 years, legal? The answer should be a resounding “no.” A similar rule in basketball crumbled more than 30 years ago when Spencer Haywood of Detroit successfully challenged a similar National Basketball Association restriction, and the NFL rule should fare no better.
The antitrust laws forbid “contracts, combinations and conspiracies in restraint of trade.” Their purpose is to protect a vital American ideal — free economic competition. Here, the NFL owners have agreed not to hire an entire group of otherwise qualified players, which obviously restrains Clarett’s ability to trade his services for payment.
Under the law, certain “reasonable” restraints may be permitted, but those restraints must further economic competition, and the NFL rule only stifles it. Other reasons, like protecting the health of players, are not valid excuses under the antitrust laws.
The NFL, however, seeks to shelter its anti-competitive agreement by making it part of the collective bargaining agreement with the union that represents NFL players. But this argument should also fail.
It is true that union activities, and some labor-management agreements, are exempt from the antitrust laws because without an exemption, unions could not lawfully exist in this country. After all, every strike is, in a real sense, “a combination in restraint of trade.” Under Supreme Court precedent, however, labor-management agreements are exempt from the antitrust laws only when the parties to that agreement restrain themselves. Once they agree to restrain strangers to their relationship, the exemption ends.