So the continuing uproar over how many feet athletes have to have on the ground during the national anthem rages on, with many conservatives especially rageful at the NFL, where there have been widespread instances of players taking a knee or linking arms or staying in the locker room (though other sports teams are doing these things too). And in that strange zone where libertarianish economic principles and blinkered patriotism meet, there have been increasing calls for football to be punished by having its public stadium subsidies taken away, or at least some of them:
- Louisiana state Rep. Kenny Havard proposed cutting off state lease subsidies to the New Orleans Saints, which amount to somewhere between $200 million and $400 million over 15 years depending on how you count, on the grounds that “It is time for taxpayers to quit subsidizing protest on big boy playgrounds.” How he planned to do that in a contractual agreement signed four years ago, Havard didn’t say.
- U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) declared, “In America, if you want to play sports you’re free to do so. If you want to protest, you’re free to do so. But you should do so on your own time and on your own dime.” Gaetz went on to gripe about the NFL’s non-profit status, which the league already gave up two years ago, though he also noted that “the public pays 70 percent of the cost of NFL stadiums,” which while true wouldn’t actually be affected by any actual legislation Gaetz was proposing.
- The Daily Signal, which is extremely in favor of “free speech” when it comes to people being guaranteed the right to write conservative student newspaper columns without fear of getting angry emails from readers, noted that upset over anthem protests may “open the eyes of the public to a serious and generally unchecked issue: billionaire NFL owners sponging enormous amounts of money from taxpayers through crony capitalist schemes.” The site then provided a useful list of stats about NFL owner sponging (“$7 billion of taxpayer money” over the last two decades, which it looks like they got from Judith Grant Long’s data via this Huffington Post article), concluding with mention of the bipartisan Lankford-Booker bill to eliminate use of tax-exempt bonds for sports venues, which it said would “strip federal funding from sports teams,” which isn’t exactly right, though it would strip the largest federal subsidy.
If anger at players for calling attention to police violence and institutional racism via silent protests leads to new attention to and limits on sports stadium subsidies, that’d be good, I suppose, albeit weird: For one thing, NFL players don’t really benefit from public subsidies except indirectly (team owners get more profits, and use some of that to spend on higher player salaries). And the Lankford-Booker bill on tax-exempt bonds does seem like the most likely restriction on stadium subsidies to have a shot at passage — nobody that I can tell is talking about reviving David Minge’s bill for an excise tax on local-level subsidies, which would actually do something serious about that $7-billion-and-growing nut.
Mostly, though, this sounds like a bunch of politicians taking advantage of public anger at football players and at sports subsidies to mash the two up into, “Yeah, let’s hit them where it hurts, see!”, even if there isn’t an exact plan for how to do so. The Lankford-Booker bill still has zero other cosponsors and remains sittin’ in committee; maybe we’ll now see a rush of Congressfolk signing on if the kneeling continues on Sunday, but I’m honestly not holding my breath.