Football, Professional Style

September 27, 2014

Believe it or not, I used to be a pro football fan. Really! I can still conjure up the image of my dad picking me up in June 1969—I was 12—and telling me Joe Namath was retiring. Devastating news!

The retirement came about when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle ordered Namath, then 26, to sell his interest in a singles bar. The conversation went like this, thereafter:

Namath:  No!

Rozelle:  Do it!

Namath:  I quit!

A month or so later, Joe Willie sold the bar interest and returned to football.

I recall football pools for years at my old law firm, watching games every week. Yes, I cared about winning money, but I really did enjoy the games. Even as recently as 2011-12, I was in a pool and still watching games, although by then scores and outcomes mattered far more.

What changed? In part, me. Too many interests and too little time to spend watching behemoths bounce off one another.

There’s more, though. I’ve learned a bit about the National Football League. For example, it’s a tax exempt organization. Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code exempts from any tax on profits “[b]usiness leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues …, not organized for profit and no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.” (The league teams, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, which are owned by a foundation, are all taxable entities.)

Football managed to insert itself into the tax code in 1966, both to effect the pro football league merger and allow the combined league to administer a player pension plan. And it has been a sweet ride! According to the NFL’s 2013 990—its tax return—the league itself had revenues exceeding $325,000,000, and net “profit” of just about $9,000,000. And no taxes.

What about the part about net earnings benefiting any individual? Roger Goodell, the Commissioner, had W-2 income of $44,107,000 between April 2012 and March 2013. And Steve Bornstein, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, received $26,081,000 from related organizations during the same period. (I’m sure these men are the two highest paid executives at nonprofits in the country. According to Business Insider’s The 15 Highest-Paid CEOs in America, written by Vivian Giang, Mr. Goodell should falls in 10th place among CEOs, although he is not listed.)

So I don’t like the business side. Big deal! I also don’t like anything else about what pro football has become.

Take, for example, crime! Benjamin Morris has looked at the crime issue for, Nate Silver’s operation, and has reported his findings in The Rate of Domestic Violence among NFL Players. The summary? NFL arrest rates are very low, relative to the general population in the same age bracket. But domestic violence rates? Relative to income and poverty rates among NFL players, the numbers are “downright extraordinary.” 55.4% of all arrests involving NFL players relate to domestic violence.

Sorry, but I really can’t give it up for a wealthy, tax-exempt organization which exists to support a bunch of really, really rich owners whose teams pay younger men extraordinary sums of money to beat up on one another for three hours or so, once a week, 16 weeks a year. Not when too many of those younger men are also beating up their wives, girlfriends, four-year-old sons, etc.

Now, I have not mentioned concussions and their relationship to dementia. Or how the players get bigger and bigger, seemingly without the assistance of any banned substances. Or the sums of money municipalities give these really, really rich team owners for stadiums. Or the deductible sums of money spent by corporations to support this operation through advertising, promotions, etc.

Bottom line for me? This enterprise reflects too well too much else about our America right now, not very much of it good. So it’s a distant memory, that’s fine, and in the short run I surely won’t be missed. However, I think pro football has a short life expectancy. My prediction? The expectancy model—and this is a cool one—says I will likely be passing in about 30 years, and I expect that I will outlive the National Football League and professional football.

P.S. If pro football works for you, great. I mean no disrespect by sharing my point of view, and I hope none is taken.

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