Messersmith, lounging in the sun in Palm Springs, Calif., quietly celebrated his victory. "Baseball hasn't been unfair to me," he said. "It's not that we are slaves. It's just that we don't have any method of mobility like everyone else in this country has."
And that is the problem in all pro leagues—finding some way of squaring the law and individual freedoms with the necessity of a structured arrangement in sports. Baseball has barely begun to approach the problem, and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle does not even want to talk about the effect of the basketball decision on his game. But time for such stonewalling has run out on Rozelle because a judge ruled recently that the Rozelle Rule is unconstitutional. NFL owners must get to talking on issues similar to those addressed by their basketball counterparts, and those discussions must be in the same spirit of compromise that led to the NBA agreement.
Ed Garvey, head of the NFL Players Association, claims he is ready to do that. "If the owners want to justify restrictions, they should show us the balance sheets that prove they can't do without them," he says. "We're reasonable."
But Pat Peppler, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, shakes his head. "I've got to believe that there's an appeals court somewhere in this country that is going to hand down a decision in favor of the owners," he says.
Perhaps. But don't bet on it. The NBA owners have taken a much safer gamble by working with their players.