I was a sophomore at Morgan State University in 1969 when Curt Flood wrote his historic letter to baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn announcing that he was taking on MLB’s long-standing reserve clause.
Dear Mr. Kuhn:
After twelve years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.
It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia Club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all the Major League Clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.
Free agency has become the highly anticipated way of the world in all pro sports. Fifty-four years later, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is challenging another entrenched practice in a behemoth sports entity. Jackson has not written a dramatic letter, as Flood did, but he has served notice to the NFL that he is taking on the NFL’s latest hill to die on: fully guaranteed contracts.
In sports media, Jackson’s battle has been cast as a tug-of-war between a player and a team. This is much more: It’s a battle of owners versus inevitable progress.