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SBD/Issue 211/Law & Politics
American Needle V. NFL Could Be Turning Point For Pro Sports
Published July 22, 2009
|Decision In American Needle vs. NFL Case
Expected In Spring, Early Summer Of '10
A LANDMARK CASE: The legal doctrine at the center of the case is known as "single entity," and law professors and experts said that if the NFL "manages to persuade the Supreme Court that the league is a single entity competing with other providers of entertainment rather than a group of 32 separate businesses competing with each other, the landscape of the sports industry will be transformed." If the NFL is a "single unit and not 32 separate, competing teams, any violation of American antitrust law would be impossible to establish," and the league would be "immune to the antitrust cases that have allowed player unions to establish and to protect free agency and other benefits." If the NFL is successful, "players, maverick owners, networks, paraphernalia manufacturers, fans and others will find themselves conducting business with what would be one of the most powerful cartels ever." Supreme Court scholars indicated that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia are "likely supporters of the NFL's position," and Justice Stephen Breyer "could easily join the pro-business justices based on his opinion in an NFL case in 1996 in which he hammered the union" (ESPN.com, 7/17).
BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION? The SPORTING BLOG's Brian Cook wrote ESPN's Munson in his analysis "alternates between sober assessments of the situation at hand and WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE hand-waving," making the upcoming Supreme Court decision "sound like the end of time." Munson depicts a "doomsday scenario" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 7/21). Florida Int'l Univ. Law School associate professor Howard Wasserman wrote Munson's report "suffers from a number of weaknesses that plague much popular reporting and conversation on the judicial system." Antitrust laws are "statutory, so Congress always can undo whatever the Court does," and while "such statutory or 'legislative overrides' are relatively rare, the very characteristics that bring the case so much attention in the Court make it a likely candidate for override, depending on what the Court does." Munson "spends a lot of time spinning out the parade of horribles if the Court adopts the single-entity rule," but those horribles "would not happen because Congress could (and I believe would) step-in" (SPORTS-LAW.BLOGSPOT.com, 7/19).