Congress could really hurt the NFL if it wants to

WFT Photograph by All-Pro Reels Photography / Flickr.

At a time when it looked like things couldn’t get worse for the beleaguered Washington football team. . . things seem to have gotten worse. In October, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform asked the NFL for documents related to the investigation into the work culture of the Washington football team. The investigation ended in a $ 10 million fine for the team but, to the shock of many observers, did not produce a public report on its findings. “Dan Snyder and the NFL have let a toxic and misogynistic culture fester for years and Mr. Snyder’s punishment has been a slap on the wrist,” said Gerry Connolly, Congresswoman from Virginia who sits on the committee, to the Washingtonian in a statement. “These victims deserve justice and our committee must continue to do so. “

Congressional involvement could signal even bigger headaches for the NFL than for the DC team, as it will likely draw attention to the government document that helps billionaire owners like Snyder rake in profits. . Politics represents one of the “few existential threats that can truly enjoy killing the [NFL’s] the goose that lays the golden eggs, ”says DC journalist Mark Leibovich, whose latest book, Big Game, examines professional football.

That’s because in the early 1960s, Congress granted the league an exemption from federal antitrust laws, allowing all individual teams to act as a single entity when negotiating television contracts. By negotiating together, the owners were able to secure considerably more lucrative broadcast deals. At the time of writing, the antitrust exemption may very well have been of benefit to the public, as it required broadcasters to broadcast each team’s games in their home markets, says antitrust economist Andy Schwarz. But subsequent technological advancements, Schwarz says, made it “an obsolete exemption.”

Today, this reality offers Congress a powerful lever to reform the NFL, if it chooses to use it. Connolly remains elusive about this at the moment; his office only says he keeps “all options open.” (WFT declined to comment for this story, while the NFL did not respond to a request.) But one person who thinks the antitrust exemption should be given careful consideration is Lisa Banks, the lawyer. numerous former WFT employees who alleged team misconduct. “I don’t think we should confer special benefits and advantages on entities that have shown disregard for women and women’s health and safety,” Banks said. “If the NFL continues on this path by protecting entities like the Washington football team or owners like Daniel Snyder, then I don’t think they’re entitled to these special benefits from Congress.”

This article appears in the December 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Editor

Luke Mullins is editor-in-chief at Washingtonian magazine and focuses on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch brothers’ attempt to take over the Cato Institute, the ousting of David Gregory as moderator of Meet the Press on NBC, the collapse of the Washington subway system, and the conflict that separated the founders of Politico.

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