Clarett Boycotted by NFL? Antitrust shapes all dimensions of our lives, as football running back Maurice Clarett learned when he tried to enter the 2004 National Football League draft. Clarett, as a freshman, led Ohio State University to an undefeated season in 2002. Clarett was ineligible for college football in his sophomore year because of allegations that he accepted improper benefits and lied about doing so. Clarett then tried to enter the NFL draft but was barred by a league rule providing that players must have been out of high school for three seasons. Clarett sued the NFL, claiming its eligibility rules violated federal antitrust laws by, in effect, allowing competing teams to agree among themselves to boycott certain players (including Clarett). Clarett won at the federal district court level, but he lost on appeal when the court ruled that the eligibility rule is exempt from the antitrust laws. The NFL eligibility rule is the product of a collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union, the National Football League Players Association. Antitrust promotes competition while unions restrict it in various ways, but in balancing those competing interests, Congress and the courts have long granted unions certain exemptions from antitrust laws. The Supreme Court subsequently declined to review Clarett’s case. In 2010, Clarett was released from prison where he had served a three-and-one-half year sentence for aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon. Following his release, Clarett played football with the Omaha Nighthawks and published a book about his life. Questions 1. Should Clarett and future football players be free to sell their services on the open market? 2. Or is the NFL correct to encourage players to stay in college and mature before seeking to become professionals? Explain. 3. Congressman Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, wrote a letter in 2009 to the National Basketball Association and the NBA players union asking them to repeal the rule requiring players to be 19 years old and one year removed from high school before they are eligible for the NBA. The rule is part of the collective-bargaining agreement between the league and the players. Cohen labeled the law “a vestige of slavery.” a. What did Cohen mean by his “vestige of slavery” remark? b. Does the rule constitute an unlawful restraint of trade? Explain. c. Do you agree that the rule should be repealed? Explain.
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