Specter and the NFL

The response to news that Arlen Specter wants to hold hearing with the NFL over “spy-gate” has been met with universal disdain – see, for instance, Don Boudreaux’s comments that Congress should “butt out” of the NFL’s business. I am of the same mind – government should stay out of NFL business.

But ESPN’s Greg Easterbrook gives several reasons why Congress has jurisdiction – namely (1) the NFL gets an anti-trust exemption and (2) FCC regulations of public airwaves (i.e Television) require that sports be sports, not fake sports (e.g. pro wrestling can’t pretent to be real). He could add the NFL’s status as a nonprofit corporation rather than a C Corporation.

But Congress should repeal the NFL’s anti-trust exemption, without hearings – there is simply no reason to give special priveleges to one business. The FCC regulations are highly paternatlistic – fans will know if the NFL is fake (as they did with pro wrestling long before Vince McMahon admitted it to Congress) and act accordingly (I think the NFL would lose viewers, though pro wrestling has not). And even the NFL’s incorporated status doesn’t justify the type of oversight Specter proposes.

But Easterbrook gives one other reason why the NFL is government’s business, that “most NFL teams play in publicly subsidized stadiums.” He’s right there, if the NFL doesn’t want taxpayer oversight, they shouldn’t accept taxpayer funding. This doesn’t justify Congressional oversight, however, but state and local government.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly would be justified in having oversight hearings on the NFL – given the $190 million PA taxpayers gave to build Heinz Field. The NFL not only has teams playing in taxpayer subsidized stadiums, but has been highly active in lobbying for taxpayer funding, and in threatening to relocate teams if the don’t get the stadiums and funding they want. In exchange for millions and billions in corporate welfare, taxpayers deserve some oversight.

Of course, I will go back to my original statement, “government should stay out of NFL business.” But first, government needs to get out of NFL business. This means no anti-trust exemption, and cerainly no taxpayer-funded corporate welfare for the NFL – I would even propose forcing the NFL to pay taxpayers back for stadium subsidies.