The beating death of Tyre Nichols has renewed calls for reforming the police. But can anything really change?
The National Football League has had a rough few weeks in the court of public opinion: There’s been dismay over its seemingly misguided responses to charges of violent behavior against several players. This comes on top of the long-standing debate over the racial offensiveness of the name of Washington’s football team. Now some legislators are proposing new rules that would strip the NFL of its tax-exempt status. Many say of the NFL’s current public relations disaster that, this too shall pass. But others are hoping the current adverse attention will lead to larger positive cultural changes. Join us to discuss current controversies related to the NFL and their broader social impact.
- Andrew Zimbalist Professor of economics at Smith College author of the forthcoming book (Dec 2014), "Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and World Cup", The Brookings Institution
- Cecilia Kang Technology reporter, The Washington Post.
- Michelle Bernard President, the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy; author of "Moving America Toward Justice, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, 1963-2013."
- Senator Richard Blumenthal US Senator, Connecticut (D); former state attorney general of Connecticut.
In the aftermath of the NFL domestic abuse crisis, some members of Congress are looking to cut off the league’s nonprofit status. On our Sept. 12 Friday News Roundup show, Ron Elving of NPR and other journalists explored how the Ray Rice incident could impact how the organization is funded. “With respect to Congress, the fact that people are starting to talk about the NFL and some of these extraordinarily favorable treatments that they have under the law, that’s the reason [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell is in trouble,” Elving said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The National Football League has come under fire in recent weeks, most recently from Congress. Several members are supporting legislation to take away the league's tax-exempt status. Joining me to talk about challenges for the NFL and their cultural implications Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post, Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women Politics and Public Policy.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from North Hampton, Mass., Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College. I'll be interested in your comments and questions. Join us at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. CECILIA KANGThank you.
MS. MICHELLE BERNARDThank you for having me.
PROF. ANDREW ZIMBALISTThank you.
REHMGood to see you. Cecilia, explain to us why the NFL does not pay federal income taxes.
KANGThe reason why the NFL does not pay federal income taxes goes back about five decades, actually, to the 1960s. And at that time, let's remember, that the NFL was a fledging sports organization. It was actually not as popular as baseball. It was small. It was really trying to get off the ground. Television was really starting at that time, too. So the federal government, at that time, decided to promote what they thought would be a good -- public good, a sports organization that would potentially bring the country and unite the country together in many ways.
KANGAnd it did several things. It granted the NFL tax-exempt status, which is one of them. But it also gave it antitrust exemptions. So that's -- and that's actually quite a big one. But at that time, in the 1960s, the IRS decided that the NFL, the National Football League itself, which means the office in New York that sort of oversees all the teams, would be classified, as far as the tax code goes, as a nonprofit. And that's why they don't pay taxes.
REHMSo how unusual is that, Professor Zimbalist, in terms of other sports? Is the NFL particular in this regard?
ZIMBALISTSo I have a different view of the history that was just recounted to you. Baseball also is classified as -- or had been classified until 2007 as a 501 (c)(6) organization, making its front office tax-exempt. Baseball, as Cecilia said, in the 1960s was very popular. And baseball still was able to get this privilege of having its front office not taxed. Football itself is taxed. The teams are taxed. The pay income tax. The owners pay income tax.
ZIMBALISTThe players pay income tax. The only thing that isn't taxed is the front office. And the front office is really a pass-through entity. They get some central revenues from football television, from sponsorships, from licensing, and then they take a certain chunk out of that and they pay their expenses. The rest of it is distributed to the teams. If they somehow lost their tax exemption for the front office, all they'd have to do is distribute more to the teams and they wouldn't pay taxes anyway. So I think it's a red herring, this so-called tax exemption.
BERNARDI wanted to -- there's always a bit of politics involved. So I wanted to just sort of piggy-back on both comments. And first, one of the things that we should remember is back in the 1960s -- I think it was about 1966 -- Commissioner Rozelle, then the commissioner of the NFL, wanted the NFL and the AFL to merge. Two very prominent members of Congress, Senator Long and Hale Boggs, wanted a football team in New Orleans.
BERNARDSo the -- so this bill was passed. And basically what we got was an antitrust issue taken care of, so that the NFL and the AFL could merge and New Orleans got a football team. Now, what we see today is that it is true that the -- that the teams themselves pay taxes, but the NFL itself is almost like a pass-through entity. It's a taxed -- it's a tax shelter. And I think the public should sort of understand that, for example, last year in 2013, the NFL made $10.5 billion.
BERNARDTheir chief executive officer, the commissioner, was paid $44.2 million. And the NFL itself paid zero dollars in taxes as a 501 (c)(6) entity. All of the teams, yes, they do pay taxes, but they also pay a huge assessment to the NFL. It lowers their tax liability and they pay even less money than they normally would have to pay.
KANGI think the reason why there is so much attention to the tax exemption is -- there are several reasons why there is. Number one, the NFL is hugely profitable. That is a lot of money that Michelle just described. And so the question is, okay, yes, maybe that might be about $10 million (sic), that's a rounding error for the NFL at this point. It's small. But what it does is it brings new scrutiny, actually for the first time in a long time, real scrutiny to a series of public benefits that the NFL has received. It's -- especially the antitrust exemption.
KANGAnd that is why I think there is so much concern and so much opposition among those who support the NFL and who are part of the NFL ecosystem, the economy of the NFL, who are concerned of generally disrupting what has been a five-decades-old model.
REHMNow what about the stadiums? Do you want to say something, Andrew?
ZIMBALISTYeah, I think that this discussion is getting pretty confused. The NFL is not a tax shelter. I don't know what that means in this context. The NFL does not have an antitrust exemption. What they have, first of all, as Michelle pointed out properly, in 1966 Hale Boggs and Senator Long did make deal. And the deal enabled the AFL and the NFL to merge. That's not antitrust exemption. It was a one-time allowance for those two organizations to merge.
ZIMBALISTWhat they also have is something that all of the other sport leagues have -- not just the NFL. And that's a -- from the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, it allows the teams in each of the leagues to come together and form a cartel for the purpose of having a nationally television contract. The national television contract that Pete Rozelle wanted to sign in 1961 was because the New York Giants Football team was making gads and gads of money on a local television contract and it was unbalancing the league.
ZIMBALISTAnd so it was decided, for the purposes of having more competitive balance and more equal distribution of revenue across the teams, that the teams should be able to merge for signing a national television contract. Other than those things, the NFL does not have an antitrust exemption. Baseball has a presumed antitrust exemption. The NFL does not have one.
REHMThere's another question and that is just how helpful economically the NFL is to local economies.
BERNARDThe NFL, it can be hugely helpful to local economies. Can, and in some cases theoretically they can and they have not been. They have been sort of a burden. I shouldn't say they themselves, but the idea of -- and I think your -- we're talking really about the local stadium builds and ticket sales and everything. There's a huge economy around the NFL locally as well. So if you build a stadium, the idea is that local businesses also benefit. There can be infrastructures built around the stadiums themselves.
BERNARDAnd so that's why I think many people agree that it's a very good idea to try to get the best stadiums built around the country and to try to bring in people. It's great for the -- to build community. Lots of different arguments for that. So there's a big economy that is built around it, but what's happened in many cases is that bonds that have been issued, as well as loans taken out, the presumption that taxes can cover the expenses locally, have not met up with what has been the expectations. And so you have cases where municipalities are struggling to pay for the stadium build-outs and maintaining them.
REHMAndrew, do you want to come in on that?
ZIMBALISTYeah, I basically agree with that. The evidence is that a stadium and a team, an NFL team by itself does not help the local economy. And what has been true in virtually all cases, with a few exceptions -- Gillette Stadium that's owned by the Patriots and the Meadowland Stadium, MetLife Stadium that's owned by the Giants and the Jets, have been paid for with private funds, the construction.
ZIMBALISTBut virtually all the other stadiums are paid for with public funding. So you have the, you know, the public putting out $500 million, $700 million in bonds, they have to pay interest and amortization on those bonds over a 30-year period. And the team brings back preciously little revenue into the community. Most of the money that gets spent at the stadium, is recirculated within a local economy. And if it weren't spent at the stadium, it would be spent at bowling alleys and restaurants and ballets and concerts and so on and so forth.
ZIMBALISTSo it doesn't add money, but it subtracts a great deal of money. So generally speaking, a stadium by itself, particularly and NFL stadium where they only play eight home games during the year, plus two exhibition games, and maybe there's a Bruce Springsteen concert or two or three other things that are happening, but you have use of the stadium 15, 20 days out of the year, and you have 365 days a year. This is not a good public investment.
ZIMBALISTSo I think that that's quite right. The NFL does not stand out in that regard, however. All of the other sports leagues benefit from the same phenomenon. And they benefit from the U.S. tax law privilege that -- this is not the privileges that were spoken about before, but it's a different privilege, which is that the city's generally allowed to issue a tax-exempt bond in order to finance the stadium. It's tax -- it's exempt from -- the interest is exempt from being subject to federal income taxes. And that's a tax privilege that does exist.
BERNARDI was going to add -- just to sort of contrast what we see with football stadiums. You know, major league baseball gave up its nonprofit status for not totally altruistic reasons, but they did give up their nonprofit status. The NBA has never had nonprofit status.
BERNARDHere in Washington, D.C., I actually worked to -- as former chairman of the Redevelopment Land Agency in the construction of what was then the Verizon Center -- I mean, the MCI Center. Today it's known as the Verizon Center. Our basketball team plays there. The development that we saw locally was absolutely amazing. That area, prior to the development of the MCI Center, was basically just dilapidated property.
BERNARDYou go there today, there are businesses everywhere.
BERNARDIt has been incredibly helpful to the economy of the District of Columbia. And in that deal the District got -- the District of Columbia paid money, but Abe Pollin, also, I believe, paid $200 million of his own money to construct that arena.
REHMMichelle Bernard, president of the Bernard Center. She's the author of, "Moving America Toward Justice, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law." And we'll take a short break here. Right back.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the NFL tax exempt status. Joining us now by phone from Capitol Hill is U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. And welcome to you, Senator.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHALThank you so much. Great to be with you.
REHMThank you. Earlier this month you suggested lawmakers need to revisit the broad antitrust exemptions and tax benefits that the NFL has by virtue of congress. What action are you taking on this issue?
BLUMENTHALMy proposal very simply is to make these assets and breaks renewable not permanent and make them depend on the sports leagues demonstrating a greater sense of public responsibility when it comes to domestic violence, drug abuse, health policy on concussions and traumatic brain injury. The era of blank checks should be ended because these leagues have a position of trust which they fumble. They use their players as role models that they market relentlessly. And they have business models that very much depend on the special exemption that they have from our antitrust laws because they're able to bargain together for broadcast rights and television contracts. They receive tax breaks and benefits as well as subsidies.
BLUMENTHALAnd so I'm proposing that the permanent nature of that exemption be ended and that it be renewed every five years if the leagues demonstrate a sense of public responsibility by demonstrating players who engage in domestic violence, by disciplining them and punishing them and establishing strong policies that provide funding for counseling and other advocacies.
REHMI know, Senator, that you served five terms as Connecticut's attorney general. I gather you dealt with cases of domestic violence and abuse and that that's why you feel so strongly about this now.
BLUMENTHALAbsolutely right. As attorney general I dealt for 20 years with cases of domestic abuse against children, neglect and violence in homes where I saw the tragic, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking consequences in creating a cycle of domestic violence. You know, more than 70 percent of men who commit domestic violence have seen or experienced it in their own homes as children or young boys.
BLUMENTHALAnd so this cycle needs to be broken. That's why the role models -- the good role models are so important. And I started an organization as attorney general called Men Make a Difference, Men Against Domestic Violence. And I believe so strongly in support services and counseling and advocacy. That's what I hope the leagues will support now.
REHMYou say that the NFL has been particularly lax with regard to this issue of domestic violence.
BLUMENTHALThat's right. Over the last decade or so there've been 85 cases, serious cases of domestic violence that have prompted almost no disciplinary action or adequate response from the NFL. It has been particularly lax and laggard in effect fumbling the challenge that it faces to provide good role models. And so that's one of the reasons why I feel this antitrust exemption should be a renewable every five years, not permanent, and why I'm advocating among my colleagues many of them dismayed and disgusted not only by the video of Ray Rice, but also by this record of lax and laggard response from the NFL.
REHMNow what, in your mind, should be the reaction of the NFL office and head to Ray Rice?
BLUMENTHALThat is really the key question here, a great question. My feeling is that the NFL ought to have a disciplinary policy that is way more stringent than what it recently announced as its so-called reform. It went from essentially no policy to a six-game suspension on the first offense and then a multi-year or even indefinite suspension on additional offenses.
BLUMENTHALI think it ought to impose what it did with Ray Rice but with greater due process and the hearing and so forth. Stronger disciplinary processes but also hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the advocacy groups like the Domestic Violence Hotline and Interval House, which is the major shelter here in Connecticut, other shelters like it that provide it, these poor women to break the cycle and leave an abusive home.
BLUMENTHALThe Ray Rice video really is the exception that proves the rule because most of these instances of domestic violence occur without any video. They are behind closed doors in secret. And the NFL can really play a part in educating America, creating awareness and ending an era of denial which has been fostered and aided and vetted by the NFL.
REHMIf you were head of the NFL right now, would you ban Ray Rice from professional football?
BLUMENTHALI think that banning him for the indefinite future is the right step at this point. It should've been done much earlier and it should've been done in terms of more stringent reaction to the other 84 or so instances of domestic violence.
REHMDo you also happen to think that the head of the NFL should step down?
BLUMENTHALYou know, I think if Goodell lied to the public about having seen that Ray Rice video, he denied that anybody in the NFL had seen it, then he should step down. But more important to me -- and here's really the critical point -- is what the policies are, what the NFL is doing to stop domestic violence among its players and also more generally in deciding what they're doing is more important to me than who is doing it as commissioner. And I want to see the right policy.
BLUMENTHALBecause in the long run Goodell or anybody in that position of commissioner is in a role of enormous persuasive power, enormous power to do the right thing and set a role model and really bring this problem into the open and support advocacy groups, hot lines, counseling that enable women to break with domestic violence.
REHMBut realistically, Senator, how much difference can the legislation you're proposing really make?
BLUMENTHALEnormous difference because the role models of these teams and the NFL depends on these breaks, the special benefits they receive, the blanket edged trust exemption that enables them to do what no corporations in the country would have the right to do, namely talk to their competitors, bargain collectively with them, sort of broadcast Rice's television contract, share and redistribute profits so that the weaker and smaller teams are enabled to go forward.
BLUMENTHALThis kind of cartel -- it really is a cartel in the old fashioned sense -- would not be permitted but for their blanket antitrust exemptions. It's the basis for their business model, even though it's making an enormous difference.
REHMAnd finally you said earlier that so many of your colleagues are disgusted, they're dismayed. But how many of them realistically do you think are going to support you with your legislation?
BLUMENTHALWell, we'll see when we come back in November and I introduce the legislation. A number have committed to join and I am very eager to have a bipartisan group. There should be nothing partisan about the effort to fight domestic violence. So I'm encouraged but we'll see when we get back. And, if nothing else, we're showing the NFL that somebody's watching, somebody's going to hold them accountable and make sure that the bar is raised and a higher standard is imposed.
REHMAll right, sir. Thank you so much for joining us, U.S. Senator from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal. Thanks again, sir.
BLUMENTHALThank you very much.
REHMAnd to you Andrew Zimbalist, what's your reaction to the Senator's plan and his comments about domestic abuse?
ZIMBALISTWell, I think I agreed with about 80 percent of what he said. The other 20 percent I think he's misinformed about. He talks about the NFL having a blanket antitrust exemption. That's just not true. Baseball was granted a blanket antitrust exemption by the Supreme Court in 1922. Football was never granted such an exemption. In fact, there was a case that went before the Supreme Court, the Radovich case in 1957. The Supreme Court said it applies to baseball but not to football. So he's misinformed about that.
ZIMBALISTAnd he refers repeatedly to something he calls the tax exemption. And as I said before, the NFL does have certain tax privileges but they do not have a tax exemption other than what applies as a 501C6 trade association rule for the front office. And that basically doesn't amount to a hill of beans. In terms of his thought that the NFL should ban Ray Rice for life, I'm not in favor of that. I'm in favor of redemption.
ZIMBALISTI think that we want to be very harsh with domestic violence. And the NFL historically has not been. And I think there's been a lot of dithering and misrepresentations about everything that's happened with Ray Rice. So I think he does need to be penalized but the idea that for his first offense he should be penalized by being separated from football and not being able to apply his trade for his entire life, it seems a little bit excessive to me. After I...yeah, go ahead.
KANGThe antitrust exemption that the Senator's referring to and that -- it says -- is misappropriately called -- is misinformed being called blanket antitrust. It's important in that just simply the ability for each team to get together as a cartel, a legal cartel to negotiate for broadcast rights is a big deal. And when you asked the Senator, do you think you're going to get support, it will be really hard.
KANGThere have been other senators who have tried to take away the tax exemption for the front office for the NFL league itself without success. Senator Coburn has tried that for the last two years. It's very, very hard. The National Football League is very active in Washington lobbying for its various causes now, concussion legislation against that. About the antitrust exemption, they have a bevy of issues right now that they have to deal with.
KANGThey have put $1.2 million into lobbying just this last year alone, $1.4 million into campaign contributions. There's a lot of money going into making sure that they're correct. But the antitrust exemption, as far as broadcast rights or TV, that's the big one and that's going to be tough.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." On another issue, Michelle Bernard, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State is seeking to ban the use of the name Redskins. What's the status of that controversy?
BERNARDSo Maria Cantwell's legislation also seeks to remove the 501C6 tax exempt status for the NFL. And her doing so is a reaction to the use of the term Washington Redskins, which is considered by, I believe today, the vast majority of the country as being a racial slur. And it is her belief, which I personally agree with, that the NFL basically should not be allowed to keep its tax exempt status when it allows a team like the Washington Redskins to continually use a racial slur.
BERNARDMy understanding is Dan Snyder has said, and he's the owner of the Washington Redskins, that he's never going to change the name. So we see, for example, Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey, Senator Maria Cantwell with the support of Harry Reid, Tom Coburn the Republican from Oklahoma and Eleanor Holmes Norton who's also saying she's going to introduce companion legislation on this issue when congress comes back in November.
BERNARDI think it's really important to state I agree with all of these members of congress in spirit. The bottom line that everyone has to remember is that the lives of women and children, the lives of all Americans to live with dignity and not be allowed to be the victims of continual and perpetual use of a racial slur is more important than football and basketball and baseball.
BERNARDThe legislation is important. I wish them luck in getting it passed. I love the spirit of it but we have a congress that can't pass a budget, so I don't believe that they're going to ever, under any circumstances, pass this legislation. They have continually argues over whether or not the Violence Against Women Act should apply to all women or only a certain class of women. So I don't see that this is going to get passed.
BERNARDAnd I think that we have to get -- we have to do a lot more. There has to be leadership from the commissioner. There has to be leadership from the owners. I disagree with Professor Zimbalist here. Ray Rice and any other person who abuses a woman, who abuses a child needs to be banned from football for life. If you commit murder, you go to jail. If you commit assaulted -- attempted assault, you go to jail. You should not be allowed to continue to play baseball and have people aggrandize you and wear T-shirts that say, we think you're wonderful.
KANGHere's what stands in the way of any sort of change. Every Monday when ratings come out for Sunday football, the ratings keep going higher and higher. Thursday night CBS introduced for the first time Thursday Night Football, they paid $275 million for this year along to do this. Their ratings are going through the roof. So the fan base, even though there may be public outrage, and in fact, the perception of the NFL in the latest polls show that the perception is actually going down and that people are dismayed with what they see as a mishandling of domestic violence in all these issues that Michelle outlined.
KANGHowever, when it comes to watching the game, and that's where the money is, about 7 million -- 7 billion of the $10 billion a year is in TV rights. Every time there is a game on, and it's about three times a week on the broadcasters, more so on cable as well, the ratings go through the roof. It is the most watched thing on TV. Thirty-four of the top thirty-five programs of last year were NFL games. Nothing draws viewers to TV like live sports and live football in particular.
ZIMBALISTSo I don't think we need to get into a contest about who finds domestic violence more repugnant but I do want to say this, that domestic violence involves a spectrum of different activities. And if you have a hard and fast policy as was just suggested that domestic violence brings a lifetime suspension, then somebody who gives a light slap in the face to a spouse or somebody who cold cocks the spouse gets the same suspension. I think the matter for a variety of reasons is really quite complex. And the Hope Solo case that's before us right now is illustrative of that.
REHMAll right. Short break here. Your phone calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones, your questions, comments. First, to Shane in Dayton, Ohio. Hi, you're on the air.
SHANEHi, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
SHANEFirst, I really have a couple of comments. First, real quick, this is news to me that the NFL is a nonprofit and doesn't pay federal income taxes. I just don't understand how you can describe a company as having made over $10 billion profit and then describe them as a nonprofit that doesn't pay taxes. That's shocking and totally confusing to me.
SHANEAnd on the domestic violence thing, not to play devil's advocate because the whole -- especially with Ray Rice, with the video, it's disgusting and he deserves to be shamed by everybody. However, if the reporter gets convicted of domestic violence and they go to jail, which they absolutely should, when they get out of jail, they'll still be a reporter. And if a police officer is accused and maybe even convicted of domestic violence, when his punishment is over, he still gets to be a police officer.
SHANESo I don't know that just because these guys are famous and in the limelight that they should be stripped of their livelihood.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Michelle.
BERNARDThis is not just about the perpetrator and whether or not they're going to have a livelihood after they have been punished. It is about the victim. Ray Rice could've killed his then fiance when he knocked her out in that elevator. Adrian -- what is his last name?
BERNARDAdrian Peterson, who "whooped" his son with a switch, which was actually a branch, draw blood, cut him, hit him in the scrotum, could have physically maimed for the rest of his life. Does anyone really care if either of them gets to go back to earn a livelihood if you are in any way whatsoever damaged physically, mentally or emotionally for the rest of your life?
BERNARDWhat about the victim?
ZIMBALISTSo I'd like to address the first part of Shane's comment. We have to be clear. When people use the figure of $10 billion last year, that's a revenue figure for the NFL. It's not a profit figure. Profits are much, much lower than that. The profits that the teams earn, they pay income taxes on it. There happens to also be, for the teams, a tax shelter and their ability to amortize intangible assets so that's different than the tax shelter that people have been talking about.
ZIMBALISTBut the teams do pay income tax. The owners pay income tax and the players pay income tax.
REHMAll right. To Kevin in Indianapolis, you're on the air.
KEVINThank you, Ms. Rehm. Great program.
KEVINI've got, I guess, a couple points to make, but first, is, I mean, does anybody really think the NFL is nonprofit? I mean, that would make Goodell the highest paid nonprofit executive in the world. What's he make, $30 to $40 million now?
KEVINAnd how much?
KEVIN44 million. Okay. So they're a profit corporation hiding behind tax law and that's all they are. As far as domestic violence, I think the senator set up a case for failure. The NFL should not be accountable or responsible for domestic violence training or education or the funding of domestic violence programs around the country.
REHMDo you agree with that, Cecilia?
KANGYou know, I think this is really much more Michelle's (word?) than mine, but I would say that the reason why the NFL and lawmakers are even weighing in right now is that there is an understanding that the NFL's afforded certain privileges and they are because there is a certain public component to that, to the league itself, the games, that they serve a public good and so they should be held responsible and actually have -- be responsible in a way where they have clear rules that are justifiable, that are good for the public and exemplary.
REHMAll right. And Andrew, we've just gotten a tweet from Sheila who said, "Did Andrew actually condone a light slap as opposed to a cold cock? Seriously? Domestic violence to any degree is wrong."
ZIMBALISTOh, of course, it's wrong. It's terribly wrong. I'm just saying that if somebody does light slap his spouse that it deserves a different penalty, or one might think about a different penalty than somebody who cold cocks and knocks out his spouse.
BERNARDThis is why we have a domestic violence problem in this country. The bottom line is, it doesn't matter what behavior you engage in, if it falls under the umbrella of domestic violence, everyone should get the same punishment. There is no difference between a slap in the face, a cold cock, cursing somebody out, demeaning someone. All of them are forms of domestic violence that begin to escalate to a point in time where sometimes we see people lose their lives.
BERNARDAnd because we can have an attitude that a light slap in the face is different than a cold cock, that is why domestic violence continues to grow and grow and grow and never ends.
REHMAnd there's something additional here. This particular incident in the elevator was caught on camera. How many acts of domestic violence are caught on camera? Not many, Cecilia.
KANGI think that's right, Diane. I am just -- I'm imagining an NFL panel trying to determine what the victim, once again, explaining whether the violence perpetrated on her or him was domestic violence light or domestic violence heavy and that's just -- I just imagine that. I get chills thinking about that.
BERNARDYou're saying to -- I mean, it sounds as if we are saying to the victims that it's really no big deal and we know that that is wrong.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Mary in Houston, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
MARYGood morning, Diane. It's nice to hear your voice again.
MARYI first want to say, not a lot of this is a surprise to me, first, because you, I believe, had the author of "The King of Sports" on your show a year ago. Is that correct?
REHMI cannot verify that. I'd have to look back in records.
MARYWell, he wrote about the commissioner of the NFL making $30 million a year so now the only thing surprising me is he's at $44.
MARYBut to give you some background and then I'll my question, I've worked in sports stadiums across Texas where football is one of the primary drivers for about half a decade. And I stepped away from it recently, mostly because I was shocked. I, at my minimal wage, make more than the cheerleaders I was checking in. So you see how all this isn't nonprofit and all the money, so-called, coming in or at least being billed for advertising.
MARYThese industries, NFL, are heavily reliant on volunteers or low-paid people who have to report to work at 4:00 a.m. for a game that won't start till 7:00 p.m. and they put in anywhere from 12 to 18-hour days, many of them are minimally paid, if paid at all, and there are a lot of volunteers who think one day they'll get into the business and be well paid. And so my question to the panel is, is Congress gonna look into that as far as what is the scope of Congress' looking into the NFL's nonprofit status?
REHMThanks for calling. Cecilia.
KANGWell, Congress -- with Senator Blumenthal's new bill on looking at renewal instead of permanent exemption for negotiations on sport's rights broadcasting, this is the antitrust exemption that we've been talking about, that's sort of a new thing. There's a tax exemption. The labor policies that you've talked about, it's not really been discussed.
KANGBut the NFL right now is under so much pressure. There's sort of a pile-on of issues. There's the concussions. There's sort of safety and health. There is domestic violence for children, women, spouses, et cetera. Then, there's also the league names, the NFL's treatment of the Redskins sort of controversy. So a lot of issues are right now on the table.
REHMSo if the NFL were to lose its tax exemption, what would it mean? The Major League Baseball gave up its nonprofit status in 2007. The National Basketball Association never had one. So what would it mean for football?
KANGWell, I agree with Andrew Zimbalist in that the actual number, the amount, is not that much. It's not a big deal. It's a front office sort of thing.
REHMBut it's symbolic.
KANGBut it's symbolic. And what is potentially the bigger threat is the domino effect. It's the unraveling of other things. And especially, this sports right antitrust exemption. And it's the ability of -- and let me just put this in perspective. The NFL is so profitable right now, a lot of it is because so many of us watch the NFL on TV and they get a lot of money.
KANGArguably, the NFL is driving the TV economy more than any other programmer because the programs are so popular. They are making $7 billion today, around $7 billion, just from their sports rights, meaning -- excuse me, their broadcast rights. That is projected to grow, to actually multiply over the next 10 to 15 years.
KANGAnd that's one reason why Goodell is actually so popular, the commissioner, among the other sports league owners, because he has been sort of the steward of this strategy to make broadcasting rights a bigger part of their revenue pie. And there's a whole big economy even around this as well, the sponsors, the broadcasters, everybody has benefitted from this. So it's a much bigger thing than just Seattle versus Denver on, you know, CBS on Sunday. There's a whole economy around that.
REHMAnd here's an email from Jerry who says, "Excessive punishment is popular in the U.S. We need to think through the total consequence of taking away the ability of football players to earn money. Their wives, their children, their extended families can be put into poverty for one lapse of judgment. Such punishment will cause women to hide, rather than report domestic abuse." And we know that in this very case, his wife is saying, oh, you're taking this all wrong, Michelle.
BERNARDYes. And she is typical, like with a lot of victims of domestic violence, apologized publically for whatever she believed her role in...
BERNARD...her then fiance knocking her out in an elevator should be. It is a sickness and the victims, as well as the perpetrators, need mental health counseling. They need help. But the bottom line is her safety and the safety of her children is so much more important than his livelihood thereafter.
REHMSo Andrew, I gather you expect the football league will weather all of this, continue to make money, that the undoing of its nonprofit status won't happen.
ZIMBALISTWell, first of all, I don't think it will have any impact at all if they take away the 501C6 status. Maybe it will have some symbolic effect and maybe there'll be some snowballing, but I don't think the so-called exemption is important and I don't think it will have any effect whatsoever. It does appear to me that the NFL, over the years, has been enormously resilient, as your other guests have pointed out, and the right number, by the way, is little bit less than $6 billion in national television and it's not gonna grow until after 2022 when the current deal expires.
ZIMBALISTBut it's enormously popular. Any week, you find the top 15 rated television shows, 14 or 15 of them are the NFL games. Sponsors, corporations need the NFL. They're resilient. I don't think there's gonna be short term change.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from James who says, "I'd like to see public service announcement broadcast during every game, paid for by the organizations. These PSAs would, number one, denounce domestic violence as criminal behavior and unacceptable in a professional organization and, two, provide information about domestic violence hotlines and services and finally, refer perpetrators of domestic violence to organizations that can help them to learn to stop abusing."
BERNARDI think that's a fantastic idea. The only other thing I would add to that is that I would love to see PSAs explain to the public what domestic violence is so that people will understand that a light slap in the face is domestic violence. Someone using bad language, negative language towards you is domestic violence. There is so many different ways that people are abused and they don't understand that they are being victimized.
REHMThere's one other issue we haven't talked about today and that is the head injuries, the numbers of head injuries occurring and whether that is going to change parents' minds from grade school up and whether that's going to find its way into the NFL. Cecilia?
KANGYou know, I think that might be one of the longer term, bigger issues for the NFL. I don't know a single -- this might be regional or -- I know very few children -- I have children around that are getting into sports who are playing American football. I knew very few -- people are very concerned about safety issues and concussion rates and et cetera. So it is the -- you know, when Tom Brady, himself, says that he's concerned about that for his own kids, that's a big signal.
ZIMBALISTAbsolutely. I think it's a very, very important long term issue for the survival of the NFL. You know, having a better helmet is not going to solve the concussion issue, and better equipment won't because concussions come from the brain hitting the skull, not from the skull hitting something outside of it. And it's not something that's gonna go away. I think it's going to hit first at the level of youth football. Eventually, it reverberates up.
ZIMBALISTBut, again, that's not something that is going to destroy the NFL in one or two years. It is a long term challenge for them, however.
BERNARDI've got an 11-year-old son. I've got two kids and it's completely anecdotal. My son will never play football in any league as a child or as an adult. And I would venture to guess that a lot of other parents feel the same way and, I think, long term, this is an issue for the NFL.
REHMWe're talking about players who are now suffering from Alzheimer's, early onset Alzheimer's, having played football. This is a real concern.
BERNARDAbsolutely. It's a health issue and the NFL is going to have to confront it. You know, they've got to have a continuing pipeline of people going into the league to play football so if they don't figure out how to deal with this issue, eventually there may not be a league.
REHMMichelle Bernard, she's president of the Bernard Center For Women, Politics, Public Policy. Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College. He has a book coming out this winter titled "Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and World Cup." And Cecilia Kang, she's the technology reporter for The Washington Post. Thank you all.
KANGThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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