Sunday, April 21, 2002

The Socialism of American professional sports

I have a wealth of thoughts/questions on this subject.

I will start slow, with an observation that came to mind yesterday given the coverage awarded to the annual NFL draft. Imagine instead of athletes, the graduates of America's top law schools (or business schools, or med schools...) were entered into a draft where the top 30 law firms would select the highest rated graduates (based on such statistics as grades, LSAT scores, law review articles, etc.) for places on their "teams". Once drafted, the graduate would solely be able to negotiate with the firm that selected them (their only other option is threatening to sit out). They would have to move to the home city of the firm that selected them and practice whatever type of law they specialized in.

The very idea is, of course, ridiculous. So why is this acceptable in the case of professional sports?

Perhaps some would say, "Professional athletes make millions of dollars to play games. The fact that they do not have complete control over their career path is part of the life to which they have tacitly agreed."

Being one who values free trade and commerce (especially when it comes to people's personal labor choices), I do not accept that argument. First of all, not all athletes get paid huge salaries (certainly players selected in the later rounds of the draft still have lost valuable control over their lives for what are often very short and not hugely lucrative careers.) Secondly, cartels and other collusive argreements (such as the NFL draft) are wrong even when they harm wealthy people. And finally, as the late Robert Nozick wrote in Anarchy, State and Utopia, "A tacit agreement is not worth the paper its not written on."

More to come on this subject...any one who happens to read this and has background on the history of litigation concerning professional sports drafts and other labor practices please send me an email ( I will be doing some homework on this subject as well and will offer an alternative to the US system.

Update: The actual Nozick quote is: "The Social Contract is not worth the paper it's not written on." It seems I paraphrased.