NFL: No Fun League

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

I’ve used this column before to express my displeasure with the NFL’s handling of numerous on- and off-field incidents, but as long as it continues to mishandle seemingly every adverse situation thrown its way, I’ll continue to write about the so-called No Fun League.

Much of the inspiration for this week’s editorial is owed to controversial Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and his teammate, wide receiver Doug Baldwin.

Last week, the two reigning Super Bowl champs and Stanford alumni ripped the NFL’s decision to fine Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch $100,000 for refusing to speak to the media after a Nov. 16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“You know, the other day Marshawn Lynch got fined $100,000. A hundred thousand! And it’s like, they wouldn’t have even paid him $100,000 if he had talked,” Sherman said.

He also went on to criticize the league’s other hypocritical practices, such as fining players for wearing Beats headphones and not allowing players to talk about alcohol even though the NFL’s biggest sponsor is a beer company.

Asking players not to talk about about alcohol is one thing, but regulating what headphones they can wear? That’s ridiculous, especially since the rule only came about after the league made Bose its official headphones manufacturer.

Sherman’s rant didn’t end there, either; perhaps his most salient point about stunning hypocrisy in the NFL came with regard to player safety.

“They’ve been talking about player safety so much, and that it’s like, two games in five days doesn’t seem like you care about player safety. You know, it’s a little bit much for me,” he said.

Sherman is, of course, referring to having to play a game on both Sunday and the following Thursday — a situation made far more common after the NFL scheduled 16 Thursday night games this season. Three days is simply not enough time for players to recover from the physical toll of playing just one game.

Now, why did they do this despite the obvious safety concerns voiced by Sherman, Baldwin and dozens of other players? The answer is easy: money. This year, CBS paid the NFL $275 million to produce all 16 of those games and air eight of them.

The NFL can change the rules, improve equipment and promote its player safety and health website, But as long as it refuses to put safety before economic gain, there will be no evolution — only more injuries that haunt these players for the rest of their lives.

I won’t advocate for the complete removal of Thursday night games, but at the very least, there needs to be a rule that ensures that teams may only play on Thursday night following their bye week. Only then would they have enough time to get healthy and prepare for that midweek game.

Sherman did well to point out a number of hypocrisies that exist within the NFL, but there’s one more dubious distinction the league holds that I must note while on the subject.

Since 1942, when the IRS ruled that the NFL was a trade association for its member teams, the league has been classified as a nonprofit under section 501(c)6 of the tax code. That’s right: Somehow a corporation that made over $10.5 billion and paid commissioner Roger Goodell $44.2 million in 2013 is tax-exempt. According to CNN, that salary would rank in the top 20 of CEOs in America, above those of Disney, Visa and Yahoo. That doesn’t exactly sounds like a nonprofit to me.

Not all of that $10.5 billion was subject to the tax exemption, but the “nonprofit” NFL made more than $326 million from April 2012 to March 2013. That’s no small chunk of change.

The NFL’s tax exemption isn’t exactly its fault, as it’s up to Congress to create legislation to change that status. Nevertheless, it’s still supremely frustrating that American taxpayers are subsidizing an organization that refuses to effectively protect its players’ health and has a team whose name is a racial slur and whose players routinely engage in domestic violence.

With a track record like that, it’s no surprise that the league has had to take steps to ensure it doesn’t lose that tax-exempt status. It has spent over $1.6 million lobbying members of Congress in the last year and a half. It’s a small price to pay, considering what it saves in taxes. Most unfortunate is that Congress hasn’t used the considerable power it holds over the NFL’s economic bottom line to push the league to change its hypocritical ways.

As I’ve said before, none of the NFL’s shortcomings will stop me from watching the games. I simply love the on-field product too much. But that doesn’t mean I and my fellow fans shouldn’t push for change. It’s high time that on-field greatness is matched by responsibility off the field. It’s up to us, the fans and Congress, to hold them accountable.