Socialism (of a Sort) Reigns in the National Football League

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February 11, 2011; Source: Salon | There is a surprisingly socialist element to the National Football League and the championship game that it has elevated to the status of a quasi national holiday, according to Salon’s David Sirota and The Nation’sDave Zirin.  Sirota notes that many of the stadiums, including the colossus in Texas used for the Super Bowl, are government funded edifices built for the teams’ billionaire owners. 

But there’s a nonprofit element to this story too. The victorious Greenbay Packers are major league professional sports’ only publicly owned nonprofit organization, entirely “owned” by the citizens of Green Bay, Wis.  Here at NPQ, we have talked about other “nonprofit” aspects of the NFL that aren’t quite as Frank Capra-esque as a small market team kept in the big leagues due to the community spirit of 100,000 Green Bay citizens. 

The NFL itself, for example, is a tax-exempt entity, a 501(c)(6) with revenues – yes revenues – well into the billions.   We have also discussed some of the charitable hypocrisy of the Super Bowl itself, raising money for the homeless as it criminalized them around the stadium in Texas. 

Our 2008 article on the NFL won us a visit to Congress to testify at a roundtable organized by Congresswoman Maxine Waters about whether the NFL really merits its tax exempt status (Major League Baseball, for example, is for-profit).  Waters was clearly concerned about how little care the NFL paid to its former players, many of them injured for life, sometimes with limited access to health care, and generally lacking health insurance. 

The Pain Alternatives, Solutions and Treatment Retired Athletes Pain Management and Medical Resource Group (PAST) is one nonprofit that exists to help these former players, including greats like Christian Okoye of the Kansas City Chiefs and Herb Adderly of the Green Bay Packers.   Few NFL players have long careers; generally only top-flight quarterbacks are guaranteed the big salaries. Most players labor in the trenches for a few years and then spend much of the rest of their time nursing and trying to cure debilitating aches and injuries. Sirota’s right that there is an element of socialism in the National Football League, but it works for the owners, unlikely to identify themselves as nonprofits, and not for the players, who are generally looking to nonprofits for help.–Rick Cohen