DC piles on the NFL

DC piles on the NFL
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Problems are piling up for the NFL in Washington.

From the Ray Rice scandal to the end of sports blackouts to the controversy over the Redskins name, America’s most popular sport is under fire like never before in the nation’s capital.

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While it is fairly common for sports leagues to have run-ins with congressional lawmakers over hot-button issues, the NFL has faced one public setback after another in a relatively short amount of time.

“Football has been under the radar screen, but it has been adding up slowly with all these different issues,” said one lobbyist familiar with the industry.

“With that kind of media focus, you’re going to have to give a lot more of the back-story to legislators to satisfy their oversight interest.”

Lawmakers from both parties lashed the league this week, after a video surfaced of Rice, former Baltimore Raven, punching out his then-fiancee in an elevator in Atlantic City, N.J.

Rice had been suspended for two games for the incident, a punishment that was widely derided as too lenient before the explicit video surfaced.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said his office did not see the video of the assault before handing down the initial punishment and the league has now suspended Rice indefinitely.

Members of Congress have criticized the NFL’s handling of the incident.

A dozen Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on Wednesday to Goodell seeking more information about the NFL’s attempt to view the Rice tape during the investigation of the assault earlier this year.

“Given the important role the NFL and other major professional sports leagues can play in shaping public perceptions concerning domestic violence, it would appear to be in the public interest to have the highest level of transparency associated with reviews of potential misconduct,” the Democrats wrote.

Some lawmakers are taking direct aim at Goodell over the Rice case.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) told The Hill that Goodell should “consider” resigning. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the commissioner “has some credibility issues.”

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions MORE (D-N.Y.) told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that she is “furious” at the way the NFL handled the case.

“He admitted to beating his wife. We saw the video of him dragging her out of an elevator,” Gillibrand added. “There was nothing left to be discussed. He should have been fired right there and then.”

The criticism has put the NFL on the defensive at a time when it is already dealing with a slew of problems in Washington.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission this week announced a vote to end the blackout rule that has, for decades, forced networks to black out broadcasts of sporting events when tickets to the game don’t sell out.

The NFL has fought aggressively to save the rule, enlisting Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann to make the case at events around the country.

The campaign fell on deaf ears at the FCC, where Chairman Tom Wheeler derided the blackout rules as “obsolete” and said his agency refuses to be “complicit in preventing sports fans from watching their favorite teams on TV.”

If that weren’t enough for the NFL to worry about, some lawmakers and activists have taken aim at the league’s tax-exempt status.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced legislation that would strip the tax exemption from the NFL and a number of other major sports leagues, and could come up again if Congress tackles tax reform next year.

To top it off, the Washington Redskins — one of the NFL’s marquee franchises — has had its trademark canceled by federal regulators and is under heavy pressure from Democrats to change the team’s name. More than 50 Democratic senators sent a letter to Goodell this summer urging him to stop use of the “racial slur.”

The controversies are keeping the NFL’s team of lobbyists on its toes.

During the first half of this year, the NFL spent $590,000 on lobbying. If kept constant, the league could spend $1.18 million by the end of the year — the highest amount since 2011, when it hammered out a collective bargaining agreement with players.

Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president of labor policy and government affairs, said that the league is not ramping up its advocacy or changing its lobbying strategy in response to the various controversies.

“We’ve always had issues that matter to the NFL, and we’ve always tried to make sure that we have a voice and that we are good partners with the administration and our congressional partners,” he told The Hill.

One lobbyist said it’s natural for the NFL to become a target for Congress, given its visibility.

“The NFL just attracts interest in ways that you don’t get with other companies,” said the K Streeter, who asked to remain anonymous. “There’s an upside and a downside to being one of the most popular brands.”

It’s possible that NFL executives could soon find themselves in a congressional hearing room.

On Wednesday, Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee sent a letter to top Republicans on the panel, asking them to hold a congressional hearing on how professional sports leagues handle outside misconduct, such as domestic violence.

“As the committee with primary jurisdiction over professional sports, we could play an important role in standing up for victims of domestic violence,” she wrote.