Howard Cosell, at his bombastic best yesterday, lectured the Senate Judiciary Committee on the history and theology of sport. But when he began to instruct the Senate lawyers on the fine points of law, their patience wore thin.
"It is not for you to come here and give us a law school lecture," said Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) interrupting Cosell in midsentence.
Cosell and Donald Trump, the owner of the United States Football League's New Jersey Generals, were among five sports figures invited to testify on two bills designed to keep professional teams from jumping cities. DeConcini sponsored one bill, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) the other.
On Monday, another Senate committee heard from the chief executives of five professional sports on two similar bills.
"These hearings are generated by the public outcry following relocations and proposed moves involving several teams, including the Oakland Raiders and, most recently, the Philadelphia Eagles," said Sen. J. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), chairman of the Judiciary Committtee.
Jay Moyer, counsel to the commissioner of the National Football League, told committee members the NFL is powerless to stop team owners from moving at will as a result of an antitrust verdict against the league for trying to keep the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles.
That ruling "imperiled the relationship between teams in professional sports and their communities," said Moyer, who urged passage of DeConcini's bill to broaden his league's antitrust exemption and restore "team-community stability."
Cosell argued that DeConcini's bill, by giving the NFL "blanket exemption" would contribute to the NFL's "ongoing arrogance and audacity." He supported Specter's bill, which is more narrowly focused on establishing specific guidelines for the approval of franchise moves.
"I think it's time to put a stop to . . . the kind of wrongdoing the NFL has been guilty of," said Cosell, who cited the moves of the New York Giants to New Jersey's Meadowlands and the Los Angeles Rams to Anaheim, Calif., "the city built by a mouse," as evidence that the NFL has been lax in protecting the rights of host cities.
Three witnesses and one committee member said they do not support any of the bills. Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, and Doug Allen, executive director of the USFL Players Association, said all of the bills would increase the power of owners at the expense of the players.
Trump opposed giving the NFL any more of an advantage than it already has over the USFL.
"The NFL must be subject to antitrust, just as any other business," he said.
Most vociferous in his opposition to the bills was Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), who said: "This nation faces serious problems. Our deficit approaches $200 billion. We are in the middle of an arms race. Unemployment is going up. And we sit here debating sports. Why? Having created the monopoly, Congress inevitably must deal with its evils. I say it's time to get Congress out of the business of regulating . . . We should let these leagues fight it out. Repeal the baseball exemption and require the National and American leagues to really compete with each other. Repeal the 1966 merger legislation, and let the NFL, AFL and USFL fight it out."