Amid ailing economy, members of Congress delve into sports issues

Amid ailing economy, members of Congress delve into sports issues

Members of Congress have recently delved into the world of sports, weighing in on the NCAA, athletes’ drug abuse, conference alignments and the Penn St. sex scandal.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) labeled the NCAA one of the “most ruthless organizations ever created by mankind.” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' The DNC's climate problems run deep Trump's health care focus puts GOP on edge MORE (R-Ariz.) said it is harder to change the college football postseason than win the presidency. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinCritics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments MORE (D-W.Va.) publicly floated the need for an ethics investigation into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate to vote Thursday to block Trump's Saudi arms deal MORE’s (R-Ky.) lobbying for the University of Louisville to join the Big 12 Conference.

Congress has a long history of getting involved in sports controversies. One of the most prominent examples was a 1995 bill to repeal major league baseball’s anti-trust exemption as a threat to induce an end to that year’s strike. Ten years later, Congress held hearings that led to baseball toughening its steroid testing policy.

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But Capitol Hill’s interest in the sports world has intensified this fall. Members of Congress have publicly commented, written letters or introduced legislation on sports matters more than a half dozen separate times in the past three weeks alone.

“We’ve seen a lot more congressional interest in various sports issues,” said Michael McCann, Director of Vermont Law School’s Sports Law Institute.

The NCAA has been a favorite target of the increased attention. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) joined Rush in criticizing the NCAA’s treatment of student athletes, requesting hearings investigating their due process rights.

Conyers acknowledged that some might question congressional involvement in sports, especially amid the nation’s high unemployment rate.

“I fully appreciate the concerns some may raise concerning our [Judiciary] Committee devoting a portion of its time to these issues,” he wrote in the hearing request.

“I would note, however, that modern-day college athletics is a massive business, with widespread economic impact on athletes, their families, broadcasters, and fans as well as universities and colleges all over the country.”

McCain also noted that Congress needs to tread carefully in this area. “I always worry about Congress being involved in things, because I’m a conservative,” McCain told a sports radio show, but he pushed ahead in calling for hearings on NFL testing for human growth hormone.

McCann, of Vermont Law School, said lawmakers can open themselves to criticism when it tackles sports. “I think the public is generally skeptical of Congress, and that skepticism is amplified when members of Congress spend time on matters that, on the surface, seem far outside core issues of social concern, like the economy or terrorism,” McCann said.

After winning control of the House last year, GOP leaders banned resolutions congratulating sports teams.

“Major things are not going on, and we’re recognizing the University of Texas men’s diving team? Come on,” said Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzFormer chairman appears at House Oversight contempt debate Former chairman appears at House Oversight contempt debate Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties MORE (R-Utah) in protesting the practice in 2010.

The House did pass a bipartisan measure on Oct. 26 authorizing the Treasury secretary to make coins commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney mocked the House last month, saying the GOP-led House “has spent time on issues like commemorative Hall of Fame baseball coins.”

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McCann said the appropriateness of congressional involvement varies. “When it came to concussions in football, I think there is a public interest,” McCann said. “In other regards when it comes to conference realignment and the [Bowl Championship Series], it’s a more questionable use of their time.”

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran MORE (D-N.M.) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) have both introduced legislation to improve children’s football helmet safety.

Pennsylvania Sens. Pat Toomey (R) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Overnight Health Care: Biden infuriates abortion-rights groups with stance on Hyde Amendment | Trump tightens restrictions on fetal tissue research | Democrats plan event to scrutinize Trump's mental health MORE (D) had nominated Penn State football coach Joe Paterno for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. They withdrew their support for the measure following Paterno’s firing on Nov. 9 in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal at the university.

Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) called on the Department of Education to investigate the situation, which it is now doing. Former Pennsylvania senator and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he is sure Paterno is as “sick and stunned about it as everyone else.” Santorum also expressed his regret for nominating the alleged perpetrator for an award nine years ago.

Members have not just gotten involved at their state’s schools when there is a scandal. McConnell’s involvement was simply support of a beloved alma mater. The New York Times reported that McConnell’s lobbying of the Big 12 conference boosted Louisville’s prospects for admission.

West Virginia University also vied for the spot, and its junior senator, Manchin, wasn’t shy in expressing his views.

He suggested that the Senate Commerce panel, headed by West Virginia Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D), might need to investigate the ethics of McConnell’s actions. Manchin also said Louisville is not as good as West Virginia, saying Louisville “needs to toughen up.”

West Virginia ended up winning the Big 12 spot, though Louisville beat the Mountaineers last week, 38-35.

Retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), the owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, is in the thick of negotiations to break a lockout. President Obama recently said he is “a little heartbroken” that the lockout has delayed the start of the NBA season.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Health Care: Trump officials defend changes to family planning program | Senators unveil bipartisan package on health costs | Democrats pass T spending bill with HHS funds Overnight Health Care: Trump officials defend changes to family planning program | Senators unveil bipartisan package on health costs | Democrats pass T spending bill with HHS funds Kushner meeting with senators to craft asylum deal MORE (D-Ill.) led a group of Democratic senators in writing to Major League Baseball, requesting that its new contract with the players union ban players’ use of chewing tobacco at all games.

And California Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account MORE and Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president MORE (D) introduced legislation waiving certain restrictions on foreign vessels in U.S. waters to allow San Francisco to host the America’s Cup sailing race next year.