by Ken Reed
For decades, the United States government has basically given NFL owners and executives a free pass to run their league anyway they see fit. However, the NFL’s arrogance, sloppiness, and lack of anything resembling ethical behavior –fueled by the ugly Ray Rice case –has angered government leaders this past year.
“Pro football is supposed to be an entity that operates in a magical constitution-free zone of antitrust exemptions and tax breaks …,” writes sportswriter Dave Zirin. “But those days appear to be as dead as playoff hopes in Oakland … The federal government is out for a chunk of Roger Goodell’s flesh and the evidence of this is there for anyone who cares to look.”
It’s not that the government is angered by the apparent lack of moral direction exhibited by Goodell and his franchise owners, although let’s hope that’s part of it. It’s that they’re angry about how Goodell’s poor leadership has led to a spotlight being pointed at all the crazy benefits the government has granted our country’s pro football monopoly.
Basically, what’s angering Washington D.C. politicians is Goodell’s failure to keep the public and media’s attention on the games played on Sundays.
The NFL’s inability to effectively manage itself has resulted in the government striking out at the league. As Zirin aptly points out, in recent months, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rescinded the owner-friendly NFL blackout rule that prevented local telecasts of games played in stadiums paid for by taxpayer dollars. The FCC is also considering banning the use of the “Redskins” nickname (read: racial slur) over broadcast television.
Moreover, there have been several senators questioning the NFL’s tax-free status (worth an estimated $10 million a year to the league) and the many other special government perks the league has been blessed with through the years.
The latest sign the government is no longer the protector of the NFL shield came when the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) launched surprise raids this past week of five NFL teams as part of an investigation into prescription drug abuse in the league.
In a piece on the drug raids for the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins and Rick Maese wrote:
“The inspections, which entailed bag searches and questioning of team doctors by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, were based on the suspicion that NFL teams dispense drugs illegally to keep players on the field in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, according to a senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation.”
Clearly, the government’s hands-off policy regarding the NFL is over. If Goodell’s inept handling of the Ray Rice case wasn’t enough for NFL owners to consider firing him, you’d think the increasing intrusion of the government into how the league operates would be enough for the owners to seriously consider canning their embattled commissioner.
Goodell and his minions sense this. Hense the damage-control letter and news release regarding the Adrian Peterson situation. The “We are here to protect all kids” release was clearly done not out of any sense of concern for abused kids but as a brand management and crisis communications strategy.
It’s amazing Goodell still has his job. He should be a dead-man walking when it comes to his job security.
It appears “the only thing that can save him now is the greed of owners and good, old-fangled fans who don’t give a lick about off-the-field matters as long as their guy is strappin’ up Sunday,” writes Washington Post columnist Mike Wise.
While in many ways — attendance, TV ratings, etc. — the NFL has never been more popular and successful, it simultaneously has never been in more trouble. In fact, football at all levels is feeling the heat.
As Zirin concludes:
“Whether we are talking about the covered-up dangers of youth football, the plantation economy of the NCAA, or the corporate culture of the NFL, the feds are not done with the people who run this sport. Not by a longshot.”
Let’s hope that’s the case.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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