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 411mania » Politics »
NFL Owners, Players Union Seek Government Bailouts
Posted by Enrique on 01.19.2011

If you're like me – and who isn't now and again – you're from Wisconsin and feeling bloody terrific that the Green Bay Packers are the best team evah. As a fan, the idea of the Packers going to Chicago and playing the Bears for everything is heady stuff. I think we can all agree that whichever team wins on Sunday deserves to go to the Super Bowl. Because beating the Seahawks proves NOTHING.

But after the season ends in a few weeks, the negotiations between the NFL and its labor union will take center stage. As both sides jockey for position, the union is stepping up its lobbying efforts to convince Congress to intervene on its behalf. It's not really surprising the union and the league would seek a congressional remedy – we've been letting the government interfere with professional sports since the dawn of time. From regulating performance enhancing substances, to subsidizing stadiums, it's become standard practice for the government to be involved in sports. And for what?

The story so far…

The government has a long history of attempting to pick winners and losers, so regulation of pro sports was a regrettable inevitability. But it's a shame the idea that government just shouldn't be involved in sports at all went out the window ages ago.

According to this story in POLITICO (I think I technically have to capitalize the whole thing, sorry), the union has been considerably outspent by league in its rent-seeking efforts. Apparently pro athletes aren't as overpaid as we've been led to believe:

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said it's important for lawmakers to meet the "people who get their hands dirty." Foxworth, who is on injured reserve, said if there's a lockout, he, his wife and newborn baby would lose their health insurance.

"The most important thing that can happen for us on Capitol Hill is just to level the playing field because, as we found out recently, the NFL has been lobbying on Capitol Hill for a number of years now," he said. "It's important that they see our faces too and they recognize that there's another team playing in this game."

Indeed, the players union more than tripled its lobbying spending from 2008, when the league opted out of the current contract, to 2010, when it spent almost $350,000.

Still, that number is dwarfed by the NFL, which spent almost $1.1 million lobbying last year. The league gave almost $600,000 to federal candidates in the most recent election cycle, almost doubling its 2008 giving, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The players union does not have a political action committee.
With the Packers and everything, I've really been trying to put this labor dispute out of my mind. But I did notice that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put out a statement earlier this month about how he's just a swell guy who wants to work with the union, etc. Goodell just thinks it's silly some "unproven rookies" get paid so much, that's all. Plus, it's been a bad economy, so you'd think these guys could take a pay cut, amiright?

Although I'm not typically sympathetic to unions in the public sector, there's certainly a place for unions in the private sector, particularly in career fields with unique health risks. I can see how a player may not want to push his body to the limit for an additional two games. And it's pretty galling for the league to complain about economic pressures since almost all teams are beneficiaries of government subsidies.

As anyone who lives in a city with a pro sports team is aware, team owners typically get taxpayer subsidies for renovating arenas or building new stadiums. They justify begging for a handout by talking about the economic benefits of upgraded venues. But in the NFL's case, there are only eight events per year (nine, if you're the Eagles or Falcons), which isn't enough to generate a significant economic impact. Here's Reason.tv's classic 2008 short film on what a bad deal these stadium subsidies are.

Even though there's no evidence government interference in pro sports has any benefit, it never ends. And for whatever reason we haven't tarred and feathered anyone over these ridiculous abuses of power. It's really just obnoxious that the government has any official opinion on pro sports at all, but we accept it because that's the way it's always been. We should seriously consider tarring and feathering someone. How about Orrin Hatch?

This guy

It was about 1.5 years ago Hatch held hearings on the BCS national championship, calling for the Justice Department to launch a formal inquiry. Even if Hatch's home team wasn't treated fairly, it's no reason to indict anyone. Bad calls, inconsistent strike zones, and lack of fairness are the cost of doing business when it comes to pro sports. It's nothing that can be solved by continually expanding government oversight.

Government is lousy at picking winners and losers with the economy and numerous wars, literal and metaphoric. Let's do something before they start explicitly picking winners and losers of specific games. I'd prefer to leave it up to the corrupt and incompetent referees, umpires, coaches, owners, and players.


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