The Big Game: Federal Government vs. the NFL

More than ever before, Congress and the White House are challenging football.

President Obama throws a football at Soldier Field in Chicago.
National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
Add to Briefcase
Kaveh Waddell
May 30, 2014, 7:33 a.m.

In re­cent months, polit­ics and Amer­ic­an foot­ball have been clash­ing in­creas­ingly of­ten. Con­gress and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion have found them­selves on the op­pos­ite side from the NFL over is­sues ran­ging from health con­cerns and dop­ing to a team’s ra­cist name and the league’s non­profit status.

Pres­id­ent Obama is the most re­cent entrant to the fray. Fol­low­ing a smat­ter­ing of com­ments over the course of the two years that hin­ted at his con­cern over con­cus­sions in foot­ball, Obama brought to­geth­er lead­ers of na­tion­al sports leagues at the White House on Thursday for a Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Con­cus­sion Sum­mit. At the event, the pres­id­ent an­nounced nu­mer­ous part­ner­ships with sports or­gan­iz­a­tions, in­clud­ing a $30 mil­lion pro­gram in con­junc­tion with the NCAA and the De­fense De­part­ment for con­cus­sion edu­ca­tion, and a $25 mil­lion pledge from the NFL to fund a vari­ety of strategies to re­duce con­cus­sion rates. While the con­fer­ence fo­cused on the safety of young people, the NFL could be wor­ried that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of pro foot­ball play­ers (or their par­ents) might shy away from the sport in fa­vor of safer pas­times.

Obama has re­marked on safety in foot­ball be­fore. Last year, he told The New Re­pub­lic, “I think that those of us who love the sport are go­ing to have to wrestle with the fact that it will prob­ably change gradu­ally to try to re­duce some of the vi­ol­ence.” In a con­ver­sa­tion with The New York­er in Janu­ary of this year, Obama said out­right, “I would not let my son play pro foot­ball.”

The com­plaints over safety aren’t com­ing out of nowhere. In Au­gust 2013, un­der na­tion­al scru­tiny, the NFL settled a law­suit brought against it by former play­ers for $765 mil­lion. The sum will be ap­plied to­ward med­ic­al ex­ams and re­search, lit­ig­a­tion ex­penses, and com­pens­a­tion for af­fected play­ers.

Months after the law­suit settled, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in­tro­duced a bill to strip the NFL of its non­profit status. Un­der cur­rent law, the league is ex­empt from taxes be­cause it qual­i­fies as a 501(c)(6) or­gan­iz­a­tion along with “busi­ness leagues, cham­bers of com­merce, real es­tate boards, and boards of trade,” ac­cord­ing to the IRS. A fea­ture in The At­lantic out­lined the big-tick­et costs that NFL teams pass on to tax­pay­ers.

Most re­cently, the foot­ball team in Wash­ing­ton has been un­der fire for re­fus­ing to change a name that is a ra­cist slur. A band of 50 Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors came to­geth­er to sign a let­ter sponsored by Sen. Maria Can­t­well, D-Wash., ur­ging the com­mis­sion­er of the NFL, Ro­ger Goodell, to throw his weight be­hind a name change for the team.

On Thursday, the NFL tried to strike back with an ill-fated Twit­ter cam­paign. The of­fi­cial ac­count of the Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team tweeted an at­tempt to rally sup­port be­hind its name and send a clear mes­sage to Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev.:

Think­Pro­gress com­piled some of the fal­lout that the com­mu­nic­a­tions team be­hind the tweet may not have an­ti­cip­ated, made up of replies that ranged from “ob­stin­ate ig­nor­ance” to “overt ra­cism.”

Once an es­cape from polit­ics, foot­ball — the most pop­u­lar sport in the U.S. for the 30th year run­ning — is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly tangled up with a Con­gress suf­fer­ing from re­cord-break­ing low ap­prov­al rat­ings. The pace only seems to be in­creas­ing: The gov­ern­ment and the NFL may re­main strange bed­fel­lows for some time.

What We're Following See More »
TWO MONTHS AFTER REFUSING AT CONVENTION
Cruz to Back Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST
WHO TO BELIEVE?
Two Polls for Clinton, One for Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

With three days until the first debate, the polls are coming fast and furious. The latest round:

  • An Associated Press/Gfk poll of registered voters found very few voters committed, with Clin­ton lead­ing Trump, 37% to 29%, and Gary John­son at 7%.
  • A Mc­Clatchy-Mar­ist poll gave Clin­ton a six-point edge, 45% to 39%, in a four-way bal­lot test. Johnson pulls 10% support, with Jill Stein at 4%.
  • Rasmussen, which has drawn criticism for continually showing Donald Trump doing much better than he does in other polls, is at it again. A new survey gives Trump a five-point lead, 44%-39%.
NO SURPRISE
Trump Eschewing Briefing Materials in Debate Prep
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shun­ning tra­di­tion­al de­bate pre­par­a­tions, but has been watch­ing video of…Clin­ton’s best and worst de­bate mo­ments, look­ing for her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.” Trump “has paid only curs­ory at­ten­tion to brief­ing ma­ter­i­als. He has re­fused to use lecterns in mock de­bate ses­sions des­pite the ur­ging of his ad­visers. He prefers spit­balling ideas with his team rather than hon­ing them in­to crisp, two-minute an­swers.”

Source:
TRUMP NO HABLA ESPANOL
Trump Makes No Outreach to Spanish Speakers
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "is on the precipice of becoming the only major-party presidential candidate this century not to reach out to millions of American voters whose dominant, first or just preferred language is Spanish. Trump has not only failed to buy any Spanish-language television or radio ads, he so far has avoided even offering a translation of his website into Spanish, breaking with two decades of bipartisan tradition."

Source:
$1.16 MILLION
Clintons Buy the House Next Door in Chappaqua
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Bill and Hillary Clinton have purchased the home next door to their primary residence in tony Chappaqua, New York, for $1.16 million. "By purchasing the new home, the Clinton's now own the entire cul-de-sac at the end of the road in the leafy New York suburb. The purchase makes it easier for the United States Secret Service to protect the former president and possible future commander in chief."

Source:
×