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Blumenthal Floats Changes to NFL Antitrust Exemption (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A Senate Democrat is floating a proposal that could increase the government’s leverage over the activities of professional sports leagues like the NFL.  

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Wednesday that he’s planning legislation to impose a sunset on the antitrust exemptions enjoyed by the National Football League and the other pro sports. The former Connecticut attorney general called the response of the NFL to the domestic violence incident involving now-former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice something “right out of the 1950s, out of an episode of ‘Madmen.'”  

“Most leagues and most athletes and most managers and most teams play by the rules on and off the field, but, unfortunately, news of these deep-seated problems is not new. This special status can no longer be a blank check. It can no longer be granted permanently. It must be reviewable, and the teams and the league held accountable. The era of the blank check for sports teams must end, the special benefits must be dependent on the leagues’ fulfilling their positions of trust and special responsibility,” Blumenthal said. “I have proposed legislation to sunset the league’s special treatment, ending the antitrust exemption and making it renewable every five years.”  

Proposing to rollback or change the antitrust status of pro sports is not a new idea. It surfaces from time to time when controversies arise in pro sports, perhaps most notably during the steroid scandal in Major League Baseball.  

Former Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., is among those who have questioned baseball’s antitrust exemption in the past, including in June, in reference to the sale of the Chicago Cubs, according to the Chicago Sun-Times .  

“I’m not sure there’s anyone in the Senate or Congress left who knows baseball has an exemption,” the Hall-of-Fame pitcher said at the time.  

“The public assistance these leagues receive takes a number of very exceptional forms: tax benefits, public subsidies and local assistance. But chief among them is the antitrust exemption enjoyed by the four major sports leagues,” Blumenthal said in a floor speech. “Although large corporations and similar organizations that have the potential to come nature a particular marketplace are generally prevented from coordinating their activities under our antitrust laws, Congress permits this kind of coordination by professional sports teams, particularly in the area of pooling their broadcast rights and television contracts, the very means that enable them to spread their message and create that public image.”  


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