On one end, 10 football players took a stand by putting their names on an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. On the other, several NBA players have hinted that they will take their talents elsewhere -- overseas -- if their lockout continues.
In between those bookends, two words come to mind about the call-to-duty labor-issue thinking by this generation's professional athletes: We'll see.
I just finished watching "The Curious Case of Curt Flood" on HBO. In November 1969, Flood, the center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, refused to accept a trade to Philadelphia and sued Major League Baseball on the grounds that MLB's reserve clause, which restricted a player's ability to move from team to team unless by trade, was unconstitutional and in violation of antitrust law. Flood, a .293 hitter over 12 seasons with the Cardinals, didn't play in 1970 and, after the Phillies traded his rights to Washington, appeared in only 13 games for the Senators in 1971 before he retired.
He went looking for solidarity, found none; went looking for justice, found little. No active players agreed to testify in support of his lawsuit (though Jackie Robinson and several other former players did). In 1972, the case reached the Supreme Court. He lost.
Still, Flood's stand changed sports. An arbitrator finally ruled in December 1975 that baseball could no longer use the reserve clause, and baseball's free-agency era began. Our games were never the same.
At the heart of the HBO documentary as the credits fade is the professional breakdown of a man. The lawsuit essentially was career suicide for Flood.
Change channels. On ESPN, I see developments in the same stories, "SportsCenter" after "SportsCenter." The NFL lockout. The NBA lockout. Owners want change. Owners losing money. Brady vs. NFL antitrust case. Billy Hunter. Employee furloughs. Decertification. Deron Williams going to Turkey. DeMaurice Smith. Proposed NFL deal. NBA schedule released. Litigation. $45M hard cap. No new proposals expected.
I look for a player, even one player, to stand up against all of this. Norma Rae. Rosa Parks. Curt Flood. One player to put his career on the line for the rights of other players. One player to sacrifice for the greater good.
Not one has appeared.
Several have shown up in lesser forms, refusing to lie down. The Tom Brady case has 10 players' names attached to it, including superstars Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, along with two other players (Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins) whose situations could delay a settlement or change the way restricted free agents are handled by teams in the future.
In the NBA, it isn't just Williams who is speaking about going overseas to ball. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are giving it serious consideration, making it possible for other players to take good hard looks at that option. Even if it's a temporary alternative, it's leverage.
Yet with all of that being said, done and/or implied, is there one player out there who is really willing to put his career in jeopardy for change?
As much as collective countersuits and player exodus are in vogue, there doesn't seem to be that one person who is willing to step beyond the circumstance and become a symbol for the players and how they are being treated in these negotiations.
Just as every hero needs a theme song, every movement needs a martyr.
"There's a sense of entitlement today that didn't exist in Curt Flood's time," USC professor Dr. Todd Boyd said in a phone interview. "[Flood's] sacrifice is closely tied to the era in which it happened. [It] reflected the politics of the late '60s/early '70s when sacrificing one's own self-interest for the good of the community was considered the right thing to do if one were fully committed to the larger struggle.
"We live in a very different era now. It's an era when athletes grow up expecting to live well. [Even] though this contemporary sense of entitlement is a direct result of the sort of sacrifice that Flood once made."
Boyd, like me, doesn't believe athletes today are willing to make that same sacrifice. They don't have it in them to lose that much. Today's athlete is not that strong. Doesn't possess that sort of fortitude.
ESPN.com legal analyst Lester Munson, too, feels there will not be a Flood equivalent now, but for a different reason: What was legally in play in Flood's battle for personal free agency is not the same as what's at stake in these current collective bargaining struggles between union and ownership.
The NFL and NBA battles right now are about protecting players' rights -- collectively, as a unit -- rather than winning a right for one individual player.
"Now, when you try to lead, you are leading all players against all owners," Munson said. "Curt Flood, all he had to worry about theoretically was himself. He was just attacking one trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia. These players [today] are trying to change the structure of an entire league for the benefit of the players. These guys are doing things on behalf of all ballplayers now and all future players. That is a major responsibility."
"One," I ask, "that is too big for one player? For one person to fight? For one player to make change?"
"Yes," Munson said. "In this case, you have to have the union. Without the union, you get nothing! One player alone with all of the fortitude in the world could not make the change. Not anymore."
That word. "Fortitude" is the thing that separated Flood from so many other baseball players of his time. It's the thing that Reggie White and Freeman McNeil had in 1989 over other football players when they found themselves at the forefront of NFL free agency. It's the thing Spencer Haywood had in 1970 when he legally challenged the NBA in his case for hardship and draft eligibility.
Fortitude of that sort, it seems, is the thing not one player in any league has anymore.
But maybe today's players don't have it because they don't need it. Maybe it wouldn't make a difference even if some player possessed it. There's a difference between what Flood fought for and what the players today in the NFL and NBA are fighting against. So maybe the question to ask is whether it is fair to be looking for a Curt Flood in today's market.
Or whether it's fair to question if there is a Marvin Miller out there with the fortitude to handle a case similar to one of the magnitude and importance of Flood's. Someone who sees that inside the fight for occupational liberties and rights to play is something bigger. Someone in need of a single client willing to make the professional sacrifice.
What good would it do in these times? What changes could come from it? Especially, as Munson said, with the stakes being so different now than one player's circumstance. Makes one wonder if a Curt Flood is even necessary today.
The answer, it seems, is "no."
Flood fought an antitrust law embedded in the policies inside a sport as it directly affected him. Other players benefited from his fortitude.
Today, the scope and landscape of the fight is beyond one man's crusade. Too much for one man to handle irrespective of the risk. The differences between management and labor today are not personal ones; they're collective. One person bargaining for an agreement changes nothing.
Those days are gone.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.