Conservatives threaten to yank NFL stadium tax breaks if players keep making the flag cry

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.

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59 comments on “Conservatives threaten to yank NFL stadium tax breaks if players keep making the flag cry

  1. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) DID NOT declare, “In America, if NFL owners want a new stadium or improvements, they should foot the entire bill and not expect taxpayers to help their businesses.

  2. In the rest of the world national anthem only played when two countries facing off. It’s never played when teams from same country face off. Perhaps the NFL should just eliminate it if the players refuse to respect.

    1. It’s a good point, Steven. The ‘stand for the anthem’ thing is relatively new in the NFL as well. The players haven’t always done it… for many years the players used to come out of the locker rooms after (or during) the anthem.

      Why is no-one mad about baseball players not all filing out of the dugout to stand on the foul lines for the anthem? Most games I’ve been to (MiLB) the singer and band (if they have a band) are on the field, everyone else is hanging out in the dugout or clubhouse.

      No presidential angst over that.

      Do all workplaces in America force all employees to stand and play the anthem at the start of their workday?

      1. What no one is discussing is the greed of the NFL led to this. They are the ones who took payment from the armed services to promote patriotism. They are reaping what they originally sown.

        1. I totally agree. The over the top flags and such seemed to begin during the Iraq war, and seemed to endorse such policies. Probably not explicitly, but still.

          I was at a college football game last weekend and noticed those players are not on the field for the anthem. The republic survived.

          1. Playing the anthem at all, of course, began during World War I at the World Series and was institutionalized by the NFL to celebrate the surrender of Japan in World War II.

  3. You know I find myself on the political center of a lot of issues, and various different perspectives from the right and the left appealing at times.

    But for the life of me, I cannot understand how the party that is supposedly all about “liberty and freedom” can be so filled with people who take offense at such an innocuous gesture.

    This isn’t a fucking cult, it is a (presumably) free country. It is perfectly reasonable for people to outright disrespect the country, or its symbols if they so choose for whatever reasons. And the particular circumstances here are extremely tame. Its not like they are secessionists, or we have an active problem with a rebellion or insurgent groups.

    All the concern over it just seems like such performative, tribalist, partisan BS. Though maybe that is a clue as sports generally appeal to the most tribal aspects of people.

    I can easily have seen the right rallying around a player who was kneeling during the previous administration due to some policy/position they disagreed with. It is very unsettling because it makes me feel like I am surrounded by lunatics with zero perspective.

      1. So… are you as opposed to them kneeling at centre field (in uniform and on “work time”) in prayer shortly after the game?

        If not, why not?

      2. Every team sent out a statement in support of the players’ demonstrations, with some owners even joining the players in solidarity; clearly, your stance was not the one they agreed with, at least in public.

        At any rate, the players knew that whatever actions they took would have been seen by millions upon millions of people, which was the whole point. For better or worse, very few things command the attention of the entire country like NFL Sundays. We claim it’s the de facto national pastime, no?

      3. Pretty sure there’s no league rule requiring players to stand for the anthem as part of their job. They’d have to collectively bargain that with the union, I expect.

      4. Well I totally agree people at places of employment should follow the rules of their employers or face the consequences?

        WTF does that have to do with this current situation where their employers are on their side, and where there are not explicit rules regarding this behavior?

        I also don’t see what that has to do with the anger the “president” and some sections of society have expressed towards this gesture.

    1. With each passing day, I become more convinced that a lot of people wouldn’t mind America devolving into a one-party state, so long as their own views and agenda were to find expression and be forced upon the entire nation indefinitely.

      But that’s neither here nor there ;)

      This anthem controversy (which actually seemed to be dying down before this past weekend) will pass soon enough, because it’s 2017 and even the most heated news topics of the day have all the shelf life of a subway ticket.

      1. Well, most of America is a one-party state. I mean if you live in New York or Alabama you know what party your next mayor or governor is going to be.

        I mean I live in San Francisco. Pretty much every voter and every politician is of the same political party. That’s the one thing we agree about. We can’t agree on anything else.

        I would wonder how much agreement or disagreement within a political party correlates with stadium subsidies. The places with machine politics seem to build public stadiums whereas the places where everyone is protesting everything all the time, don’t.

    2. ‘makes me feel like I am surrounded by lunatics with zero perspective.’

      Is this your first day here in America?

      1. Its not, but I feel like it is getting worse? Maybe it is the effect of Twitter and the 24 hours news cycle slowly breaking down civil discourse, but I kind of feel like things have gone of the rails a bit.

        1. Twitter is definitely not helping. There’s something about 140 characters and no moderation that causes everything to trend towards “Im right and youre wrong LOLOLOLOLOL”

  4. Lots of posturing but not a whole lot of weight to the threats it seems. Are those Louisiana state lease subsidies mentioned approved every single year? That seems like a terribly inefficient way of doing it but if they’re not an annual gift to the owners I’m struggling to see how they could be very easily eliminated in the short term. If they are a multi-year sort of thing could they eliminate them midstream without getting sued and likely losing in court?

  5. Anyone else wondering what percentage of the major professional sports franchise owners (or representatives presently crying about NFL players not standing during the anthem) served their country in the military?

    And what percentage sought and received deferrments like Cheney and Trump, or simply avoided conscription (when it was active) through ‘other means’?

    Being paid by the military to put on displays of patriotism does not make a franchise owner or league patriotic.

  6. I think the most amazing, and perhaps most overlooked, aspect of Anthemgate (I know, I know) is that the NFL team owners, just about all of whom are parasitic sociopaths and contemptible shitehawks to a man, made the decision to at least appear as if they want to be on the right side of history.

    Now, whether their choice came about because of pure altruism, or because they didn’t like Trumpito saying mean things about them… well, that’s another story; after all, a number of them did donate to his presidential campaign.

    1. Is it the right side of history they want to be on or the right side of their paying customers and viewer$?

      How much is principle and how much is self interest?

  7. The one truly disgusting thing to me about it is our president does seem more concerned about this issue than he does about Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Priorities are so screwed up.

    My reaction to this, personally, is “Oh, he chooses to stand/not stand during the national anthem.” Neither stance offends me. They’re not disrespecting veterans. That’s a stretch of a conclusion. I don’t think people who stand have decided to accept real or perceived policing issues; I don’t think people who do something else are shitting on the flag.

    Can’t we all just get along?

    1. Freedom of speech/choice means accepting the rights of others to protest or not protest (within reasonable limits, IE: no violence etc).

      Is the alleged furore about this really anything but a distraction for some politicians from the very real and present issues they are surrounded by?

      Turns out it’s way easier to tweet about something than to actually do something constructive about major issues (especially the ones you’ve created yourself during a short time in office).

      1. Yup, and Korea is the other issue. These tweets aren’t calming anyone down. Getting us closer to war than farther from it. A stupid way to end the world.

    2. President Trump has waived shipping rules to speed aid to Puerto Rico. Even a left wing site like Facebook acknowledges that.
      The question is why people in Puerto Rico chose to build important facilities so close to the water. They aren’t spending much money on sports stadia
      Bending the knee for the flag is hate speech. Just like calling someone a “n*****r”, “f****t”, “Nazi”, “k**e” “red****n” or anything else.

      1. I thought I was joking when I wrote “making the flag cry” in my headline, but apparently some people really believe the flag can suffer emotional pain. (And, I guess, be discriminated against and threatened with death like people called “n*****r” or “f****t”?)

        1. Fortunately not everyone believes that flags can cry.

      2. Um, no. Bending the knee is a sign of respect. Sitting down might be disrespectful, but still hurts nobody in the end unlike those *words to which you allude.

  8. Time for
    A Long-Lost Tax Plan Scares Sports Teams and Could Save America Billions

  9. “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)”

    In realted news:
    Humans don’t really benefit from air except indirectly (lungs suck it in, and some elements like oxygen end up in the bloodstream.)

    1. That’s quite the weird metaphor. So NFL players’s role is to be like the internal organs of the NFL owners?

      If so could the NFL be a giant organ harvesting conspiracy? I mean CTE damages the brain but leaves internal organs usable. I call dibs on Ben Roethlisberger’s pancreas.

      1. No I actually compared NFL players to Humans sorry you disagree. More on point anyone who thinks that players don’t benefit from governmental stadium subsidies as partners in revenue sharing collective bargaining agreements is intellectually dishonest. Why Neil decided to include that line is beyond me.

        1. Because NFL owners benefit directly from subsidies, players just get whatever trickles down. So it’s weird to try to punish players by taking it out on their bosses.

      1. Neil, that was a ridiculous quote and I think you realize it. Stadium subsidies are a major component of salary growth in revenue sharing collective bargaining agreements.

        1. Aha, I see my error: I remembered that not all revenues were used for calculating the salary cap, and indeed, until 2006 it was just based on TV contracts, ticket sales, and merchandise. Since then, though, it includes things like naming rights and luxury suite sales as well, so yes, these days stadium subsidies are more likely to increase player salaries. (I would probably know this if I followed football more, but squishy brains, ew.)

          I still think it’s a weird form of protest, but I guess if you’re holding the entire industry responsible for not saying “you’re fired” or whatever, it’s not too crazy. And, of course, even less so when you don’t actually mean it seriously, but rather just as a rhetorical talking point: “We gave you billions of dollars, and you can’t even make your employees salute our flag!”

    2. Yeah I found that a really odd comment. Presumably their pay would decrease approximately in proportion to the subsidies relation to total revenues, which is not small.

      Lets say the NFL earns what 5-7.5B a year in revenue? And probably receives subsidies of about $500M a year on average?

      So that is 6-10% of revenue. That is a noticeable impact on pay. I would certainly notice a 6-10% paycut.

      1. I forget how NFL salary caps are set — it’s percentage of revenues, but does that include off-field revenues like subsidies net of construction costs?

        If owners are behaving as rational actors, they wouldn’t spend any more on players just because they got stadium money, since the marginal value of a winning team would remain the same. But they’re not rational actors, plus there’s the salary cap stuff, so: above my pay grade.

          1. Actually less so, because the NBA only counts half of suite sales and naming rights as “basketball related income” for salary cap purposes:


      2. Stadium subsides do add money to the “system”, but IMO there is no guarantee that that extra revenue/profit will be counted as salary cap revenues (the portions the owners are required to include will be counted, the rest, no).

  10. I’m less than enamored with the protests (isn’t ticking off the very people you’re trying to reach “counterproductive” by definition?), but I there are better reasons to yank sweetheart tax deals than this. Politicians will always be politicians, whether there’s a (R) or (D) following their name.

    1. Protests always tick off the very people that protesters are trying to reach. It’s not like the British were cool with the Boston Tea Party. It’s not as if Freedom Riders sitting in whites-only cafes was smiled upon.

      Clearly, asking nicely doesn’t work, or there would be no need for peaceful protests (and when those don’t work, then come violent protests, but let’s hope that peaceful protests work – not holding my breath here, but holding out hope).

  11. People have the right in this country to protest (peacefully) but when people are protesting the protestors that’s not allowed? Double standards if you ask me.

    Ever since the first time Kapernick sat down during our national anthem it has not done one one thing in favor of his protest because people are no longer talking about why they are protesting we are all talking and arguing of how they are doing it. So try another way to get it done.

    And if I were to do something like that at my job I’d be fired.

  12. Neil, I love your blog and your cause, but let’s face it things have gotten far worse for sports subsidies since you started this what 20 years ago. To quote Rahm Emanuel ”never let a crisis go to waste”. This is a opportunity to insert this issue into the forefront of public zietgeist. Instead making fun these guys because you disagree with consertive politicians you should be sending their aides talking points that backs them up on this issue. Why are you not on Fox News at this very moment having a conversation with Sean Hannity about the public subsidizing of the NFL? You know the routine. As Churchill famously said “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

    1. I’ve gone on plenty of conservative talk shows, and will continue to do so. (Fox News has never invited me.)

      I’m making fun of people like Havard and Gaetz because I don’t think they’re serious, but rather just grandstanding. And in any event, I don’t think a political movement (if you can even call this one) based on getting rid of public subsidies for private profit when they go to people you personally don’t like, rather than because they’re harmful on the face of it, gets us anywhere — unless you really want to spend the next couple of decades debating whether Jeff Bezos is a nice guy.

      1. You know, when you employ dangerous things like facts you make it harder for the general public to be 100% for or against any particular issue.

  13. Whenever the next big war breaks out, in Korea, or Iran. Or my longshot bet, Venezuela, they can convince the football geniuses to stand back up for the anthem, and then get the average genius fan to go along with the war too.

    Venezuela just said they would only take Chinese Yuan for their oil, rather than the U.S. “petrodollar.”

    Saddam decided he was only going to take Euros for his oil, and Gaddafi decided he was only going to take gold for his. We all know what happened to them.

    We’ll soon be hearing about how Maduro is the new Hitler, from the same media people, who stirred-up this anthem nonsense. Just anything to take the attention off of the on-field product, and all of the horrible rule changes.

    1. Off topic, but yes, I’d say Venezuela just moved themselves up the hit list.

      The NFL owners will be falling all over themselves to fete the military when that happens (I mean, they’ll still demand to be paid to do so, obviously, but they might show more zeal than they are now).

      If you have to pay someone to throw you a party, is it really a party?

  14. When the bombing of Caracas starts, Colin Kapernick will be signed by the Patriots, and for his first game he’ll stand at midfield waving a big American flag. “Now’s not the time for division,” he will say.

    His jersey sells will go through the roof, as will support for the war. After all, didn’t you hear about Maduro, throwing the babies out of the incubators? Plus, he gassed his own people.

  15. We need to get stadium subsidies out of government, period. If it takes these ridiculous protests from pampered players to provide the push for it, fine with me.

  16. Fake outrage, all around. Where was all this concern for the fleecing of tax-payers when cities like Detroit were filing bankruptcy?

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