Trump Should Target The NFL’s Special Legal Privileges, Not Players’ Politics

Trump Should Target The NFL’s Special Legal Privileges, Not Players’ Politics

We likely wouldn’t be having this conversation if the NFL had to operate under the same rules as any other billion-dollar corporation.
Phillip Magness
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Everyone is talking about the National Football League, the national anthem, and taking a knee. But we likely wouldn’t be having this conversation if the NFL had to operate under the same rules as any other billion-dollar corporation.

This latest nonsense is yet another reason to stop giving them (and other national sports leagues) the protected status of an anti-trust exemption. ​The tax code could also be amended so corporations would not be able to write off billions of dollars in de facto subsidies as corporate entertainment expenses.

The NFL made a show a couple of years ago when, after decades of being granted nonprofit status, they gave up their 503(c)6 exemption, but they still receive far more government benefits from stadiums built with local taxpayer dollars. These special favors make the NFL a more political entity by nature, rather than entirely entertainment-driven.

The NFL Has Politicized Itself for Money

First, a little history. The NFL didn’t start having players come out for the anthem until 2009, when it required all players and personnel to stand on the sidelines while the anthem played as part of the Obama administration’s request to help with military recruitment. Then last year the NFL had to return to American taxpayers $720,000 improperly spent on “paid patriotism” when various divisions of the military sponsored song performances and public honors at games. So government and the NFL has already gotten a little too cozy.

The NFL got into serious disrepute a few years ago when much attention was paid to the bad behavior of some players toward their wives and other women. There was also considerable negative press about some former players’ poor state of health, due to the damage their bodies suffered playing the game. Back then it was liberal Democrats who were pushing to have the NFL’s anti-trust exemption revoked.

So the NFL needed to change the conversation. One can’t help but wonder if, out of fear of losing their anti-trust exemption when the liberals were gunning for them, the NFL decided to get “woke.” Allow Black Lives Matter-sympathetic players to leverage their games for “advocacy” and genuflect before Big Gay, and the next thing you know the Left thinks you are wonderful and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) is no longer pushing his bill. It’s this legislative solution Trump should be pushing rather than suggesting NFL executives fire players he doesn’t find patriotic enough.

Right Target, Wrong Strategy

Once objective standards and common meanings are abandoned, it all boils down to power. So the players and the league, and their cheerleaders in the media and in academia, have the power in our society. President Trump can be very crude, but he ironically is one who “speaks truth to power” these days, not the multi-millionaire athletes.

This explains why so many working-class Americans cheer him even as he behaves in ways they don’t normally approve of. Conservatives like me may prefer Peggy Noonan’s “UN Donald” to “Twitter Donald,” but the voters who made the difference in the last election resonate with Twitter Donald, for better or for worse.

As helpful as Twitter Donald may be in garnering attention, I think the president hurts his long-term prospects when he goes off-script. Everyone does this in private, but his lack of discipline in doing so publicly causes him to lose yardage in the polls. However, in this case I think he has done the right thing, albeit in the wrong way. (Referring publicly to anyone as an “SOB” is beneath the dignity of his office, regardless of any precedent President Obama set.)

What has he done? In stirring this pot he has revealed how the faction that wanted to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” really doesn’t like our country. That the NFL’s owners are now siding with them shows how much power and influence the Left has and how beleaguered old-school Americans of my ilk are today. I didn’t vote for Trump, but I do see there is a huge “swamp” to drain even if he can do little to drain it.

Rich People Don’t Need Taxpayers’ Money

A boycott of the NFL is not the answer, though—not because the NFL shouldn’t be called out, but because it won’t work. I stopped watching the NFL a couple of years ago myself. But most boycotts eventually run their course, with people eventually returning to what they boycotted. Most of those who stop watching NFL in the wake of the current controversy will do the same. Meanwhile, Trump went from a good couple of weeks (handling the hurricanes well, delivering a masterful speech at the United Nations) to another week of distraction from the job he was elected to do.

In our postmodern age, definition goes to the powerful. Why let the NFL or any sports league have this sort of influence? Whether ginning up patriotism to help the government recruit more soldiers or providing a stage for BLM protests, it is not something our government should be supporting. It’s time to take away their anti-trust exemption and see what the market might do.

A boycott won’t last. But a new league might spring up in a competitive marketplace. Even if it doesn’t, the discipline of the market should concentrate any league’s mind on being about their business rather than a tool for social engineering or issue advocacy, as teams that didn’t offend Middle America would likely gain more lucrative TV contracts were the anti-trust exemption lifted.

At any rate, the government needs to stop enriching pro sports. The NFL is no longer the fledgling enterprise it was when these laws were passed. There is no need to keep enriching them. Let’s have a world where sports leagues do not have so much power.

Correction: A previous version of this article said the NFL had 501(c)6 status, which it gave up in 2015.

Phillip Magness is a Lutheran church musician and composer who loves history, enjoys cooking and makes a mean caipirinha. He teaches hymnody and liturgy annually in francophone Africa and is co-owner of Liturgy Solutions, an online publishing company.

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