“I Do Not Feel I Am a Piece of Property to be Bought and Sold Irrespective of My Wishes:” Athlete Activism and the Sociocultural Impact of Curt Flood’s Lawsuit Against Major League Baseball
Open Access Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
Helena M. Wall
Tomas F. Summers Sandoval, Jr.
© 2020 Luka A Green
In January 1970, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood filed a suit against MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, protesting the Reserve Clause in Major League Baseball that did not allow players the right to negotiate contract terms with any team but their current one. In doing so, he cemented his status as a divisive figure in baseball, the media, and with the general public. One of the primary reasons for such an extreme reaction was Flood’s rhetoric surrounding the case, as he repeatedly invoked slavery and other forms of peonage when describing the working conditions of professional baseball players. This sparked outrage among those who saw him as an ungrateful, overpaid athlete and admiration among those who saw his actions as a continuation of the legacy of African American activist athletes that emerged in the 1960s. Flood v. Kuhn was nominally a dispute of baseball’s antitrust exemption and labor law in general, but it carried a far greater symbolism than its legal confines would suggest. Flood, a free-thinking black man, questioning the rigid realities of what continues to be known as “America’s Pastime” had an outsized impact on both player agency in sports and the public treatment of athlete activism. Though Flood lost the case, his legacy of laying the groundwork for the immense negotiating power and public scrutiny that accompanies professional athletes today remains.
In this paper, I explore Flood v. Kuhnas a story of black athlete activism, a case study on media and individual public reaction, and a legal conundrum. In Chapter 1, I will look into athlete activism from both a theoretical and practical standpoint, attempting to place Flood within the context of moderate liberal activism and the Black Power activism more commonly associated with his actions. Chapter 2 views the case from a media perspective, illustrating how the relationship between both the ideology and the argumentation of divergent opinions on Flood’s actions. After studying the methodology and implications of the media reaction to the case, I will explore the individual perspectives of both baseball fans and players as a means of illustrating the reactions and reasoning of both Flood’s supporters and detractors in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 evaluates the case from a legal perspective, illustrating how disputed early decisions in the battle against baseball’s antitrust exemption led to the convoluted and disputed decision against Flood. Through all of the chapters, Flood v. Kuhnwill be viewed from an interdisciplinary perspective, unique in the sense that it combines in-depth analysis of the primary issues surrounding the case within a holistic framework of investigation not seen in the (far more common) biographical literature on Flood.
Green, Luka, "“I Do Not Feel I Am a Piece of Property to be Bought and Sold Irrespective of My Wishes:” Athlete Activism and the Sociocultural Impact of Curt Flood’s Lawsuit Against Major League Baseball" (2020). Pomona Senior Theses. 264.
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