Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bucks for Becks. And insults.

The big international sporting news is that the most famous person on the planet, David Beckham, is coming to America to play with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

The big drama is when Beckham might start playing with Los Angeles. It certainly does not help that the president of his current team, RĂ©al Madrid, talked about Beckham's inability to be loyal to his current team now that a contract was signed that starts after his current contract runs out and that he's washed up.

It's not hard at all to find opinions on this being a good or a bad signing - certainly it is about growing the sport in the United States as much as it is about the Galaxy's ability to win the MLS Cup, the MLS Supporter's Shield, or the just-formed North American tournament called the SuperLiga.

However, the focus here is on the belief that a player cannot work (play) for one sports team in one league after signing a contract that begins once his current contract ends. Oddly enough, there's a case from 1974 that rejected that notion. Bill Bergey, a defensive player who is still well-liked in my hometown of Philadelphia, was playing for the Cincinnati Bengals (of the National Football League) at the time when he signed with the Virginia Ambassadors of the then-new World Football League. Bergey's Ambassadors contract was to start only after his Bengals contract expired at the end of the season.

The Bengals sued and the case is now known as Cincinnati Bengals v. Bergey 453 F.Supp 129 (S.D. Ohio 1974).

The parallel isn't quite the same as both football leagues were in competition with each other in the U.S. and now the two soccer leagues are international and regulated by international agreements on how players can move from league to league. But it's the notion that a player can't play for the team in this league with a contract that starts later in a new league.

The court rejected that notion. Why? Bergey had "no intention of seeking an early release" from his Bengals contract. The court in this case found that Bergey had every intention of fulfilling his Bengals contract. He was not breaching the contract. He was not interfering with the business of the Bengals, either. "The Court concludes that there is no incentive to Bergey to compromise with his pride in his playing ability which impels him to be the aggressive player that he is."

What a quaint notion.

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