Is The NFL's Anti-Tampering Rule Legal Under California Law?

The San Francisco 49ers have recently filed a complaint with the NFL against the New York Jets for supposedly "tampering" with their unsigned draft pick, Michael Crabtree.  The Jets deny the accusation, of course, but what is "tampering" anyway?  Well, the best definition I have been able to find, is given by NFL spokesman Greg Aiello in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The term tampering as used within the National Football League, refers to any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL.

That's not terribly enlightening.  But if this is a "free country" as the saying goes, where does the NFL get off telling a prospective employee and a prospective employer that they are not allowed to talk to one another?  To my mind, this seems positively anti-free market, anti-free speech, and downright un-American. 

Indeed, California Business and Professions Code section 16600 explicitly states that "every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void."  Thus, at least to the extent California law governs the matter, it would seem that any agreement between NFL clubs not to speak with one another's unsigned draft picks about prospective employment is entirely illegal and unenforceable. 

 

 

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