In NFL, a Political Rift between Owners and Players

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Ken Durden /

October 2, 2012; Source: Washington Examiner

The National Football League is a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt trade association—a non-charitable nonprofit, unlike the for-profit Major League Baseball. The governing members of the NFL are team owners—businessmen and investors—worth millions, with the community-owned Green Bay Packers as the anomaly in the mix. Late last month, the Sunlight Foundation and Business Insider looked at the political donations of NFL team owners, players, and staff, who have reportedly donated $1.5 million during the 2012 election cycle—but to Republicans over Democrats by a three to one margin.

Big supporters of the Romney campaign include Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, and members of the Bidwell family that owns the Arizona Cardinals. Other donors to the Republican presidential candidate are Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs), Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals), Jimmy Haslam III (Cleveland Browns), Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Robert McNair (Houston Texans), Shahid Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars), Alexander Spanos (San Diego Chargers), and Dan Snyder (Washington Redskins). Snyder, his wife Tanya, and Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen have also been generous donors to the campaign of Bruce’s brother George, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat as a Virginia Republican.

The only Obama supporters among the NFL owners so far in this election cycle have been Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, though Kraft’s son reportedly hosted a Romney/Ryan fundraiser last month. In the last Super Bowl, the owners of the two contenders—Kraft for the Patriots and Steve Tisch for the Giants—were both seen as strong Democratic contributors.

Unlike the owners, the players lean Democratic. Maybe that’s because they are laborers of a sort, albeit highly paid, and negotiate with the owners through a labor union. Bucking the Democratic leanings among players are Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who donated to Republican Senators Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Dick Lugar (Ind.), though Lugar was bounced in his primary loss to a Tea Party Republican, and Baltimore Ravens defensive back Chris Carr, who supported libertarian Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and Paul’s Revolution PAC.

Team owners and team players can make any electoral choices they want as individuals, but what about the league itself? Its PAC—the Gridiron PAC—seems to be interested in spreading its influence between both parties. For the 2012 election cycle, it has given 52 percent of its contributions to Republicans and 48 percent to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, leaning Republican in its donations to House candidates and Democratic for Senate candidates, reflecting which party controls which chamber.

Last weekend, Redskins star rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III was tackled so hard by an Atlanta Falcons defensive end that he suffered a concussion and is questionable for the team’s next game. On Monday night, Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a season-ending injury due to a (legal) cut block by a New York Jets lineman. We’d like to see how the owners and players diverge in their positions on Obamacare.—Rick Cohen