Throughout history, professional athletes battled against the league they play for over unfair treatment. A recent example is former NFL star and activist Colin Kaepernick reaching a settlement with the NFL from a collusion grievance he filed in regards to being blackballed from the league.
Another athlete who fought his respective league was Curt Flood, a seven-time Golden Glove-winning center fielder in Major League Baseball. He sued then commissioner Bowie Kuhn over a trading dispute.
After helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 1964 and 1967, the club traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969. Flood wanted to reject the reserve clause, a rule that kept players from moving on to another team unless they are traded.
He wrote a letter to Kuhn to protest against the reserve clause and make it so players could see offers from other franchises; Kuhn ignored the letter.
“After 12 years in the major leagues. I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes,” Flood wrote in the letter.
After gaining the support of other baseball players and founding Players Association director Marvin Miller, Flood sued; that started the monumental Flood v. Kuhn case.
Flood’s argument was that reserve clause violated the 13th Amendment, the amendment that prohibited slavery, and it violated antitrust laws. The U.S. district court judge threw out the case in August 1970 and it went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although many players showed their support, none testified in favor of his claims. Flood was the most prominent MLB player to rebel against the clause. In 1972 the court ruled against him.
The 1971 season was the last season Flood played in the MLB. During the 1969 season, he was batting at .285 and he had a salary of $90,000. After he left the MLB, the league agreed to federal arbitration and the reserve clause was thrown out in 1975.
Flood’s action and sacrifice allowed the MLB and several other sports leagues the benefits of free agency.