THE BUSINESS OF SPORTS AND POLITICS
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) has decided that Congress needs to know more about the National Football League's decision to suspend Sean Payton, Greg Williams and Mickey Loomis following an investigation of the claims New Orleans Saints' players and coaches set up a bounty system to try and knockout opposing players.
Williams, who was hired as the St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator, is serving an indefinite suspension, Saints head coach Payton starts a one year suspension on April 1, Loomis, and the Saints' General Manager has been suspended for eight games although it isn't exactly clear what that means. Does it mean he cannot work the first eight games of the 2012 season but can prepare his team through April's draft, the Saints Organized Team Activities and training camp? Another assistant coach will be sidelined for six weeks. Joe Vitt cannot be around for the first six games of the season. None of the NFL convicted coaches/managers will be paid during their sentences.
So far no players have been suspended. That could come soon. There is no hint of criminal charges coming either. The NFL has been fortunate to avoid that, unlike the National Hockey League which has seen a number of players face court proceeding because of violent actions during games.
Senator Durbin wants answers, but the Illinois lawmaker is not limited to the scope of his hearing to just National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell. He plans to have Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern and National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman also explain how their leagues operate. Bettman's environment, hockey, has had experience with bounties in the lower minor leagues and a bounty was immortalized in the movie Slap Shot in the 1970s, a film that remains a cult favorite three and a half decades later.
Just why is Congress involved?
Because the National Football League and every big time professional sport and collegiate programs owe a great deal of their success to federal legislation. The NFL has benefited from the passage of four bills, the 1961 Sports Broadcast Act, the 1966 American Football League, National Football League merger, the 1984 cable television rules revisions and the 1986 tax code revisions. All four pieces of legislation gave NFL owners business breaks, which enabled them to grow the NFL from a third rate mom and pop sports operation in the 1950s to a business that generates billions in revenues today.
Goodell and NFL owners have managed to keep the business off of Capitol Hill for the most part. In 2007, the United States Senate pressured the league into moving the Saturday final season finale for the undefeated New England Patriots and the New York Giants from the NFL Network to a variety of television outlets after there was a storm of protest that the Patriots-Giants game was not available to the widest audience possible as the NFL Network didn't have a full scale cable TV penetration due to distribution problems and that only the New York and Boston markets were legally permitted to show the game on over-the-air TV.
Some Senators screamed, huffed and puffed and the NFL capitulated. Sports leagues generally give into the wishes of Congress and why not? Major League Baseball still enjoys some benefits from the 1922 Supreme Court of the United States decision that baseball was a game not an interstate business. Although most of that protection was swept away over the years, there still is enough leftover that gives the owners business advantages that no other sport enjoys. Major League Baseball can keep Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff out of San Jose and pretty much can protect the New York Mets and New York Yankees owners from competition from a third team in the New York area by simply saying “no” to a third New York City area franchise.