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ZIMMERMAN v. NFL

March 27, 1986

GARY ZIMMERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

 Barrington D. Parker, Senior District Judge:

 This proceeding involves a challenge under the federal antitrust laws to the "supplemental draft" conducted in April 1984 by the defendant National Football League ("NFL"). That draft affected players already under contract to professional football leagues other than the NFL. Plaintiff Gary Zimmerman, the third player chosen in the supplemental draft, is currently employed by the United States Football League ("USFL"). The named defendants, in addition to the NFL, are the 28 NFL member teams, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the National Football League Management Council ("NFLMC"), its Executive Director, Jack Donlan, the National Football League Players Association ("NFLPA"), and its Executive Director, Gene Upshaw. *fn1"

 Zimmerman charges that the supplemental draft violates section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1 (1982), because it allows him to negotiate with only a single NFL team. This, he claims, is an illegal restraint of trade in the form of a group boycott and concerted refusal to deal. He brings a private antitrust action seeking injunctive relief and treble damages under sections 4 and 16 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 15, 26.

 The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. The extensive record, including depositions and affidavits of the principal participants and the oral argument of counsel have been fully considered.

 The Court determines that the plaintiff's claim must be denied. The labor exemption to the antitrust laws removes the supplemental draft from the restraints of the Sherman Act. Further, Zimmerman is unable to show that he was injured by reason of the alleged antitrust violation. Summary judgment will be granted to the defendants.

 BACKGROUND

 The material undisputed facts are briefly stated. The 1984 supplemental draft was a response to the USFL's rapid emergence as a viable competitor to the NFL for the services of college football players preparing to enter the professional ranks. A number of star players signed contracts with USFL teams in early 1983 before the NFL's annual draft of college players took place. *fn2" These included the nation's top college player, 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker. Some of these USFL players were also drafted in the NFL's regular college draft in the summer of 1983. Teams making such selections faced the risk that their choices would be wasted if the USFL survived and was successful.

 By the spring of 1984, the USFL had signed contracts with approximately 100 college players from that year's graduating class, including the 1983 Heisman Trophy winner, Mike Rozier. Plaintiff Gary Zimmerman, considered one of the best offensive linemen in his class, was also signed to a contract. This greatly increased the number of players whose selection in the regular NFL draft would represent only an investment for the future, rather than providing immediately available talent for the drafting team. The NFL teams and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle became concerned that only the more successful organizations could afford to use their draft choices in this way.

 Article XIII of the 1982 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLMC and the NFLPA allows the NFL clubs to select a total of 336 players in the regular draft. No other restrictions on the methods or rules of the draft are specified. It was believed therefore that one or more rounds of the draft could be set aside solely for players already under contract to the USFL or other leagues. The teams preferred, however, to create additional draft rounds for USFL players. This proposed solution required union approval since it would increase the total number of players drafted.

 On March 19, 1984, Jack Donlan raised the subject of a supplemental draft at a brief meeting with Eugene Upshaw. At the time, both men were in Honolulu, Hawaii for the NFL's annual meeting. Upshaw indicated that he would have to discuss the proposal with the Executive Committee of the NFLPA and its counsel, Richard Berthelson, and that the union would have to receive something in return for its approval. On March 22, 1984, the team owners authorized Donlan to continue discussions with Upshaw about the possibility of such a draft.

 Donlan and Upshaw had further discussions regarding the supplemental draft following their meeting in Hawaii. Berthelson and his counterpart, Sargeant Karsh, counsel to the NFLMC, also were consulted. On March 26, Upshaw discussed the issue with the Executive Committee of the NFLPA. That committee, without a formal vote, instructed Upshaw to accept the proposal if he was able to get something for it. The details of the supplemental draft agreement were worked out between Donlan and Upshaw in telephone conversations over the next few days. One area of disagreement was the number of selections that would be made. The NFL wanted four or five selections per team (rounds), while the union wanted two. On April 5, Donlan sent a proposed letter agreement concerning the supplemental draft to Upshaw. Changes to the proposal were suggested by Berthelson in a telephone conversation with Karsh. A revised agreement, dated April 11, was sent to Upshaw, who signed it for the NFLPA on April 19. The final agreement provided for three rounds or 84 selections.

 At the same time that negotiations over the supplemental draft were taking place, Upshaw continued to press for the resolution of the roster size, player contracts, and pension contribution issues. At a meeting of the Retirement Board on April 18, the union and the NFL agreed to jointly submit a request for an IRS letter ruling that would resolve the question of the deductibility of the league's contribution to the pension fund. Upshaw assured Donlan in a telex of April 25, that the NFLPA would prohibit the dissemination of information from player contracts to the media or representatives of other professional football leagues. The telex indicated that Donlan had advised the union that the NFLMC would resume sending the contracts to the NFLPA when they were obtained from the individual teams.

 With regard to roster size, the NFL team owners had already expressed a willingness at the March meeting in Hawaii to have 49 active player roster spots for the 1984 season. Hence, when Upshaw raised this issue as a possible exchange for the supplemental draft, Donlan responded that it was "doable." At a meeting held in Washington, D.C. in late May, the owners formally voted to maintain the 49 player limit. A letter agreement dated May 30, resolving this issue between the NFLMC and the NFLPA, was signed by Donlan and Upshaw.

 The regular NFL draft was held on May 1; players already under contract to the USFL or any other professional league were ineligible for that draft. On June 5, the NFL supplemental draft was held. Gary Zimmerman was selected in the first round by the New York Giants; he was the third player chosen overall. Plaintiff played for the Los Angeles Express of the USFL in the spring 1984 and 1985 seasons. His representatives had contacts with the New York ...


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