For the past three years, Marcus Allen has had to play for the Raiders without the salary raise that he and many others believe he has earned as a productive ballcarrier, pass receiver and blocker for Bo Jackson and others.
The club has declined either to trade him or improve him financially since Allen's last contract expired in 1988.
Instead, taking advantage of football law, it has made him play for the Raiders under the terms of his expired contract.
Thus, Al Davis owns him, in the sense that if Allen wants to earn a living in America doing the thing he does best, he must accept any terms Davis chooses.
For Davis also owns the club.
Thinking it over, Allen has decided to sue for his rights. In federal district court here Monday, before Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, he filed an antitrust suit against the NFL, challenging the legality of a league doctrine that keeps him and other pro stars from seeking work with other clubs.
A year ago, Allen's chances of winning might have been slim. At that time, the league contended that it had an antitrust shield, which the NFL Players Assn. had approved eight years earlier--in the association's union days.
But Allen's chances improved dramatically earlier this year, when two federal courts agreed with the NFLPA that it is no longer a union, and that the NFL, accordingly, is no longer exempt from antitrust laws.
"Any player affected by the NFL's illegal restrictions has a clear path to the courthouse now," said Gene Upshaw, NFLPA executive director, adding that San Diego Charger cornerback Gill Byrd has joined Allen in the suit. "Marcus and Gill are the first of many to follow that path."
Said Allen's attorney, Ed Hookstratten: "The target of the lawsuit is not specifically the Raiders, but the system under which the Raiders do business. The system leaves the player with very little or no opportunity to obtain his fair market value."
Allen's part-time teammate, Jackson, who is also a baseball player, got a $1.5-million Raider contract for this year despite a career-threatening hip injury, while Allen's salary remains frozen at $1.1 million.
"I hope the fans will understand that I'm not trying to renegotiate," Allen said from Dallas, where the Raiders played Monday night. "The club treated me fairly when I signed--but that was (a four-year contract) seven years ago."
Said Hookstratten: "After each of the last three seasons, the NFL system has given Marcus a 'take-it-or-leave-it' ultimatum every year."
Allen said that deciding to file suit was "the most difficult thing I've ever done" as a football player.
"It will be unpopular because so many people think we're all overpaid anyhow," he said. "The NFL always keeps the focus on money because they know how the fans feel. But the principle is really more important. (Free agency) isn't a player right, it's a human right. Every American is free at some point in his life to move to (other cities)--except NFL players."
The Raiders' No. 2 executive, Al LoCasale, said: "It's a trash lawsuit, and that's all I want to say about it. More than any (team) in the league, the Raiders are sensitive to player needs and salaries."
If that is generally true, Allen appears to be an obvious exception. Indeed, everything that's wrong with the NFL's present player-hiring system seems personified in his case.
"I can tell you one thing about it," said Allen. "This is a case where the facts really speak for themselves."
Five-threat offense: In the most significant performances of the NFL weekend, Herschel Walker gained 107 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers as the running back in the Minnesota Vikings' new one-back formation.
"We put in the one-back for two reasons," Viking Coach Jerry Burns said. "It suits Herschel, and it keeps (wide receiver) Cris Carter on the field with the two other (wide receivers), Anthony Carter and Hassan Jones."
Also in Burns' new four-receiver offense is tight end Steve Jordan, who has represented the Vikings in the last five Pro Bowls.
With this group of starters and either Wade Wilson or Sean Salisbury at quarterback, Burns, at last, appears to have maximized his personnel.
Walker can fully use his great speed only as a straight-ahead runner. Formerly, the Vikings, using him in two-back formations, asked Walker to run trap plays and slow-developing outside plays that restricted him to a minimum of 100-yard games.
He is a genuine threat now--as are the Carters, Jordan and Jones--in a five-threat offense that could finally beat back the Chicago Bears this year. The Bears have won five of the past six Central Division titles.
Better every year: The Kansas City Chiefs, who are working quietly in Wisconsin this summer, expect to outrun Buffalo, Houston and the Raiders to Super Bowl XXVI although, so far, they have been without their top two quarterbacks, Steve DeBerg and Steve Pelluer.
DeBerg ended his holdout only recently, and Pelluer is AWOL for what the Chiefs say are personal reasons.