Personal Courage

Curt was excited to sign a contract for the job he had always dreamed of. He was well compensated, and he returned real value to his employer. When his employment contract was up for renewal, he asked for a pay raise. He was refused.

Needless to say, Curt was upset and let his employer know. His employer retaliated by sending him to a rival organization, known for being an inferior place to work. When he refused to move, his employer told him to reread his employment agreement. The agreement gave the employer the right to send Curt to another organization. The only say in the matter that Curt had was to refuse to work for the new employer, thus being out of work.

This sounds preposterous, but it was how professional baseball worked for most of the 20th century. Curt is Curt Flood, a 3-time All-Star outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, a team and fandom known to be racist.

Curt filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball challenging the provision in the employment agreement called the reserve clause. Every team in the league had the same contract provision. The legal challenge was based upon federal antitrust laws.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, Curt lost. Baseball had been given an antitrust exemption, and the Supreme Court decided (unlike today) to honor past decisions.

Eventually the reserve clause was eliminated and in 1998 Congress passed the Curt Flood Act revoking baseball’s antitrust status. Athletes in all sports have benefitted by Curt’s courageous challenge to baseball.

What is interesting in this case is that no active players attended the Supreme Court hearing. He had very little support from others even though he was fighting for their rights as well. He died at the age of 59, a broken man. In 2020, 102 members of Congress wrote a letter to the Baseball Hall of Fame asking that he be selected for the Hall of Fame. The letter was co-signed by player’s unions in football, hockey, basketball, and soccer. Curt is still absent from the Hall of Fame.

Think of the courage that it takes for someone to stand up against an injustice with very little support from others. Curt Flood essentially gave up a comfortable life to fight for a basic freedom that all Americans should enjoy. That’s making a difference.

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“After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property  to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” – Curt Flood

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