Our Lasting Impact on the NFL
In the early 1970s, NFL players turned to our founder, noted labor attorney Leonard Lindquist, to help them create the NFL Players Association. By 1975, an impasse between the players and owners ended up in Minnesota Federal Court where Lindquist & Vennum luminary Ed Glennon skillfully and successfully argued that the league’s method for dealing with player transfers from team-to-team (a.k.a. the “Rozelle Rule”) violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. As reported Jay Weiner in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune on October 14, 2006:
…Representing a bunch of brave players, Glennon challenged former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and his feudalistic owners, in Minneapolis federal court in 1975.
In so doing, Glennon outlawyered a Washington, D.C., attorney named Paul Tagliabue in the famous John Mackey case. Tagliabue would go on to succeed Rozelle.
But Glennon would change the face of the league, too.
It started with [former Baltimore Colts tight end and the NFLPA’s first president John] Mackey, in 1975, when the NFLPA was broke and powerless.
"They had to beg for things," Glennon said of players then.
Mackey was Glennon's first sports law tour de force, even though he would try other major NFL cases in Minneapolis federal court.
A one-time railroad lawyer, he'd already established himself as a wicked trial attorney for Lindquist & Vennum, the respected Minneapolis firm.
"Watching Ed Glennon in the courtroom is like watching Leonard Bernstein conduct a symphony," said Ed Garvey, the former NFLPA executive director, and a Glennon protegé. "It's a thing of beauty."
There, in 55 days of testimony, from February to July in 1975, examining 63 witnesses, dealing with more than 400 exhibits and generating 11,000 pages of transcript, Glennon grilled NFL legends about something known as "the Rozelle Rule."
Under that provision, Commissioner Rozelle rendered the movement of a player from one team to another virtually impossible. There was, per se, no free agency.
Rozelle alone determined what compensation a team would get if it should lose a player to another team. If very average players tried to jump from one team to another, the new team would be forced to award high draft choices as compensation. This discouraged movement.
In the end, U.S. District Court Judge Earl Larson sided with Glennon and ruled the Rozelle Rule violated federal anti-trust law.
With the “Rozelle Rule” quashed, Glennon guided the league and players in adopting their current stance on free agency, leading to parity between the players and owners, competitive balance among the league’s teams, and a more exciting product for millions of NFL fans to cheer for.