PRO FOOTBALL : Unhappy Marcus Allen Files Antitrust Suit
For the past three years, Marcus Allen has had to play for the Raiders without the salary raise that he and many others believe he has earned as a productive ballcarrier, pass receiver and blocker for Bo Jackson and others.
The club has declined either to trade him or improve him financially since Allen’s last contract expired in 1988.
Instead, taking advantage of football law, it has made him play for the Raiders under the terms of his expired contract.
Thus, Al Davis owns him, in the sense that if Allen wants to earn a living in America doing the thing he does best, he must accept any terms Davis chooses.
For Davis also owns the club.
Thinking it over, Allen has decided to sue for his rights. In federal district court here Monday, before Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, he filed an antitrust suit against the NFL, challenging the legality of a league doctrine that keeps him and other pro stars from seeking work with other clubs.
A year ago, Allen’s chances of winning might have been slim. At that time, the league contended that it had an antitrust shield, which the NFL Players Assn. had approved eight years earlier--in the association’s union days.
But Allen’s chances improved dramatically earlier this year, when two federal courts agreed with the NFLPA that it is no longer a union, and that the NFL, accordingly, is no longer exempt from antitrust laws.
“Any player affected by the NFL’s illegal restrictions has a clear path to the courthouse now,” said Gene Upshaw, NFLPA executive director, adding that San Diego Charger cornerback Gill Byrd has joined Allen in the suit. “Marcus and Gill are the first of many to follow that path.”
Said Allen’s attorney, Ed Hookstratten: “The target of the lawsuit is not specifically the Raiders, but the system under which the Raiders do business. The system leaves the player with very little or no opportunity to obtain his fair market value.”
Allen’s part-time teammate, Jackson, who is also a baseball player, got a $1.5-million Raider contract for this year despite a career-threatening hip injury, while Allen’s salary remains frozen at $1.1 million.
“I hope the fans will understand that I’m not trying to renegotiate,” Allen said from Dallas, where the Raiders played Monday night. “The club treated me fairly when I signed--but that was (a four-year contract) seven years ago.”
Said Hookstratten: “After each of the last three seasons, the NFL system has given Marcus a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ ultimatum every year.”
Allen said that deciding to file suit was “the most difficult thing I’ve ever done” as a football player.
“It will be unpopular because so many people think we’re all overpaid anyhow,” he said. “The NFL always keeps the focus on money because they know how the fans feel. But the principle is really more important. (Free agency) isn’t a player right, it’s a human right. Every American is free at some point in his life to move to (other cities)--except NFL players.”
The Raiders’ No. 2 executive, Al LoCasale, said: “It’s a trash lawsuit, and that’s all I want to say about it. More than any (team) in the league, the Raiders are sensitive to player needs and salaries.”
If that is generally true, Allen appears to be an obvious exception. Indeed, everything that’s wrong with the NFL’s present player-hiring system seems personified in his case.
“I can tell you one thing about it,” said Allen. “This is a case where the facts really speak for themselves.”
Five-threat offense: In the most significant performances of the NFL weekend, Herschel Walker gained 107 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers as the running back in the Minnesota Vikings’ new one-back formation.
“We put in the one-back for two reasons,” Viking Coach Jerry Burns said. “It suits Herschel, and it keeps (wide receiver) Cris Carter on the field with the two other (wide receivers), Anthony Carter and Hassan Jones.”
Also in Burns’ new four-receiver offense is tight end Steve Jordan, who has represented the Vikings in the last five Pro Bowls.
With this group of starters and either Wade Wilson or Sean Salisbury at quarterback, Burns, at last, appears to have maximized his personnel.
Walker can fully use his great speed only as a straight-ahead runner. Formerly, the Vikings, using him in two-back formations, asked Walker to run trap plays and slow-developing outside plays that restricted him to a minimum of 100-yard games.
He is a genuine threat now--as are the Carters, Jordan and Jones--in a five-threat offense that could finally beat back the Chicago Bears this year. The Bears have won five of the past six Central Division titles.
Better every year: The Kansas City Chiefs, who are working quietly in Wisconsin this summer, expect to outrun Buffalo, Houston and the Raiders to Super Bowl XXVI although, so far, they have been without their top two quarterbacks, Steve DeBerg and Steve Pelluer.
DeBerg ended his holdout only recently, and Pelluer is AWOL for what the Chiefs say are personal reasons.
“We aren’t concerned by the time that DeBerg has missed,” General Manager Carl Peterson said. “He didn’t play until this time last year, when he was out until the third (exhibition). We need the early games to find our quarterback of the future.”
The front runner is former Charger Mark Vlasic, who has been contending against Mike Elkins and former WLAF quarterback Stan Gelbaugh.
On loan, Elkins also played in the World League of American Football this spring.
“You can see how much those games helped his confidence,” Peterson said. “For some reason, the NFL (lent) only two players to the WLAF--and (the Chiefs) sent both of them, including linebacker Tracy Simien. Tracy was All-World.”
In the Peterson era, Chiefs’ season ticket sales have soared from 22,800 to 51,000.
“We’re better this year, depth-wise, at almost every position,” Peterson said of a club that ran the Raiders a strong second last year and gained the playoffs with an 11-5 record. “But we’d like two more drafts before you make us a Super Bowl contender.”
Now hear this: Super Bowl XXVI in the Minneapolis Metrodome next Jan. 26 will kick off at 3 p.m. (PST). . . . The Steelers have demoted former starting halfback Tim Worley to the third team. . . . New York Jet safety Erik McMillan got a Fordham master’s degree this year. . . . Two-way Green Bay rookie Esera Tualo doubled at the last Senior Bowl as a nose tackle and the man who sang the national anthem. . . . The Raiders, still referred to as the Oakland Raiders by some, have been a Los Angeles team about one-third of the time that they have been anybody’s team--10 of their 32 years.
Where are they now? NFL Alumni researcher Bobby Mitchell has found Carroll Dale, the 1960s Ram and Packer receiver, in Wise, Va., where he is a coal mine overseer. Dale spends his weekends in Bristol, Tenn., where he teaches Sunday school.
John Hannah, former New England blocker, on pro football: “It’s the greatest game that’s ever been and ever will be, as long as the people who are trying to sell it as a business don’t destroy it.”
Buddy Ryan, former Philadelphia coach, looking back: “Offensively, I think third-down efficiency is the most important statistic.”
Lou Holtz, Notre Dame coach, formerly coach of the New York Jets: “The most important statistic I look at is the number of first downs (because) that means you’re being consistent on each play.”
Rodney Hampton, New York Giant running back, on skipping his last season at Georgia to make himself available for the draft: “Playing in the NFL was everything I ever wanted to do. I could have smashed that dream if I had gotten injured my senior year. Anything can happen.”