Doug Benc, Associated Press
With concussion talk still rocking America's most popular sport and Joe Namath having thrown more fuel on the fire this week, another U.S. senator has joined an effort to strip the National Football League of its tax exemption, which is more bad news as the NFL prepared for its annual Super Bowl bash Sunday.
The latest to join the anti-tax exemption effort was Sen. Angus King (I-ME), who US News reported was motivated by the enormous sums of tax-free money involved, specifically the $30 million a year paid to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"I wouldn't be honest if I said that didn't (motivate me)," King told US News. "It's hard to say an organization that pays its executive director $30 million and yet is a tax-exempt entity – it's hard to look my constituents in the eye and say that's good public policy."
The pressure on the NFL comes amidst ongoing negative publicity surrounding the concussions players often suffer, and are now thought to contribute to serious brain injuries. Litigation is ongoing.
Last week a federal judge ruled that $765 million may not be enough to fund the claims of 2,000 former players, ESPN reported.
President Barack Obama made headlines with recent comments that he would not let a hypothetical son of his play football, but he gave a pass to the NFL because the players are highly paid consenting adults. But as Greg Easterbrook noted at The Atlantic, the impact of football on society cannot be cordoned to professional sports.
"Most people don't know they are not-for-profit entities, and when people find out, it strikes them as ridiculous," Lynda Woolard, a New Orleans community activist who authored a Change.org petition to stop the exemption, told USA Today. "We have a corporation running as a non-profit and getting the benefit of a non-profit but not acting in the public good."
Prior to Sen. King coming aboard, Coburn had enjoyed little success in this effort.
"No other senator has signed on to co-sponsor the bill," USA Today reported in December. "He cites the industry's clout on Capitol Hill. The NFL alone has spent more than $5 million on federal lobbying since Jan. 1, 2010, federal records show.
"If you are in a state that has a pro football league or runs a pro golf tournament, the career politicians are afraid to touch it," Coburn said in December, according to the USA Today report.
The NFL is not pretending to be a charity, ESPN notes.
"Before you start comparing the NFL to the American Red Cross, it's important to know how and why the NFL is a tax-exempt organization. According to league spokesman Brian McCarthy, the NFL is organized as a trade or industry association that is exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code, not Section 501(c)(3), which exempts charitable organizations," ESPN said.
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