WNBA Turns 20 in Milestone for Female Athletes

The WNBA has reached a huge milestone this year as the league prepares to enter its 20th season.

For two decades, the WNBA has shown the nation’s young girls that they, too, have the opportunity to show their stuff in paint on some of the nation’s highest profile courts.

There are still more battles to fight for gender equity in sports – especially within the WNBA itself. While the average WNBA salary has improved over the years – it currently hovers around $75,000 – the fact remains that female players are nonetheless paid a smaller share of overall league revenues compared to their male counterparts.

This arbitrary difference corresponds to the lingering gender pay gap that stretches across all industries. The high-profile character of WNBA stars, however, uniquely positions them to act as advocates on this important issue.

As fans look forward to seeing whether or not decorated college star Breanna Stewart – who is making her rookie debut after a string of wild successes with the Connecticut Huskies – can give Diana Taurasi a run for her money as the best WNBA player, we’ll continue to bring you coverage on gender equity in sports.

Scientists: Move or Postpone Olympics Due to Zika

A group of 150 scientists, researchers, and academics have written an appeal for organizers to either move the Olympic Games from Rio de Janeiro or delay them, citing the ongoing Zika virus public health emergency.

The letter reads in part:

We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or “too big to fail”. History teaches this is wrong: the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympic Games were not just postponed or moved, but cancelled. Other sporting events were moved because of disease, as Major League Baseball did for Zika, and the Africa Cup of Nations did for Ebola. FIFA moved the 2003 Women’s World Cup from China to the USA because of the SARS epidemic, based on the advice from university-based experts, as many of us are.

The letter proceeds to express concern that tourists from around the world will carry the virus back home with them to countries not yet exposed to the epidemic. Poor countries in particular concern the letter’s signatories, who argue that the Olympics pose an unnecessary risk that may lead to outbreaks in regions ill-equipped to cope with the mysterious virus.

Amir Attaran – a professor at the University of Ottawa and prominent signatory of the letter – informed The Guardian of his pessimistic post-olympics forecast, remarking that the “odds are extremely high that somebody will take the disease elsewhere and seed a new outbreak.”

In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement downplaying the  Olympics’ role in spreading the Zika virus update, stating that “canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” adding that Brazil is simply one of nearly 60 countries which have reported cases.

The WHO reaffirms that tourists should simply follow the world health body’s travel advice, which essentially amounts to wearing mosquito repellant and practicing safe-sex.

Purportedly, the International Olympic Committee has not consulted with the WHO regarding the organization’s dismissal of scientists’ fears, though the governing body of the Olympics has long maintained that there is no possibility of moving the games, the multi-billion dollar budget for which grows every week.

There is likely intense resistance to calls for a delay or cancellation from interests that have contributed to the immense sum of money invested in the games.

Zika virus has been proven to cause microcephaly in new-born infants, which causes malformed heads and debilitating and/or lethal brain damage. Additionally, there may be some links between the virus and deleterious side-effects in adults, including a possible correlation between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis and death.

The United States Olympic Committee has told athletes and staff that they should skip the Rio games if they are concerned about Zika, Reuters reports.

The Tap will bring you further coverage as the Olympics approach concerning Zika virus and other ongoing events, including the political strife and economic turmoil currently ravishing the host country Brazil.

FIFA Boss Incriminated by Panama Papers

(Current FIFA President Gianni Infantino)

FIFA has had a tumultuous year, with a host of scandals rocking the international nonprofit in charge of world soccer. Ousted FIFA President Sepp Blatter oversaw an organization rife with bribery, responsible for allegedly selling hosting rights for the World Cup to Qatar, which has worked as many as 1,200 migrant workers to death in brutal, slave-like conditions.

While many hoped for a bright future following Blatter’s welcome departure, the recently released Panama Papers have brought renewed scrutiny of FIFA.

The nonprofit’s offices were raided by Swiss authorities, acting on details gleaned from the leaked Mossack Fonseca documents. Gianni Infantino – current head of FIFA and former general secretary for the organization – appears to have signed a TV rights deal with two businessmen who have since been accused of bribery by US authorities.

Furthermore, Juan Pedro Damiani – a member of FIFA’s ethics committee – appears to have  provided assistance setting up offshore tax havens to Eugenio Figueredo, the former FIFA vice-president who was arrested in Switzerland last year at the request of US authorities. In the wake of the revelations, Damiani resigned.

Leadership changes can certainly change a nonprofit’s direction – but institutional cultures can be hard to break. This seems to be the case with FIFA, which sits upon the nexus of the world’s more popular – and profitable – sport. To keep FIFA true to it’s mission, continued governmental oversight of the kind shown by Swiss and US authorities is paramount.

As the investigations continue, we will have more coverage on FIFA and the revelations from the Panama Papers.

Super Bowl 50: Philanthropist Acts as Lead Host

(Super Bowl 50 will be held in Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco)

Organizers for Super Bowl 50 are not only hoping for a tremendous showdown between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. They also have their sights on marrying philanthropy to the highly popular annual competition in an unprecedented way.

Daniel Lurie – the founder and CEO of Tipping Point Community – was selected to serve as the chairman for the host committee in San Francisco. The leading Bay Area philanthropist has received accolades for his work fighting poverty; his organization screens and funds a number of highly vaunted nonprofits on a yearly basis.

Lurie’s position as chairman of the host committee has him working as the de facto ambassador for the city as it plans the upcoming Super Bowl.

Lurie:

I was a little surprised when I was asked. I thought we should go and find some business CEO, but after thinking about it I really realized the opportunity we had to change the way we think about how we bid on these events… and how we put community first.

The popular philanthropist plans on working with a number of all-star players including Marshawn Lynch, Justin Tuck, and Ronnie Lott in order to make the NFL’s flagship philanthropic effort – the 50 Fund – a success. Lurie hopes to surpass the NFL’s fundraising goal of $13 million. The fund raises money for youth development, providing low-income communities with sports and educational opportunities, as well as environmental measures that connect communities with the natural world.

Recently, however, there have been protests in San Francisco. The increase in media attention has opened up the nation to a number of issues facing the Bay Area, including sky-rocketing rent and seemingly intractable homelessness.

“We’ve had a [homelessness] problem here in the Bay Area for decades,” Lurie said in response to the criticism leveled at the city for accepting the Super Bowl. “This is not a Super Bowl issue, it’s a Bay Area issue… I love this city, and I love the region. I love the growth that we’re seeing, but I also know not everyone is involved in our economy and how great things are going.”

Whatever the criticism, a successful philanthropist running the most success ever 50 Fund may be the positive press that the NFL needs after a year of scandals ranging from domestic violence to concussion-induced brain damage in players.

FIFA Fumbles Its Nonprofit Mission

On May 27, nine FIFA representatives – along with a handful of sports media executives – were arrested on corruption charges in Geneva, Switzerland. The United States-led case against soccer’s most powerful nonprofit institution is less surprising in the content of its allegations (bribery, racketeering, and fraud) than the extent of the indictments.

News reports appeared last year showing that FIFA officials may have received bribes from vested interests in Qatar for lobbying on the Middle Eastern country’s behalf in the campaign for the World Cup. Indeed, the last year has seen a host of stories concerning the less salubrious aspects of FIFA’s operations, including the nonprofit’s undue pressure on governments to change local laws in order accommodate sponsors’ interests. While these and other controversies were hardly secret, the multi-billion dollar institution exuded an air of invincibility, weathering criticism through its immense influence as the international administrator of the world’s most popular sport.

Sports are big business, and nonprofit sports institutions are not immune to the corrosive influence of billions of dollars in profits. Whether it is the exploitive profiteering of the NCAA or the evasiveness and obscurity of the NFL’s (now bygone) tax exemption status, United States sports fans have seen the unsavory – if not entirely illegal – side of sports nonprofits. Taken to the world stage, the picture gets even shadier. The larger scope often means that the corruption is more sinister, involving governments and business interests that are not held to the same human rights checks that U.S. sports fans naturally expect domestic institutions to adhere to.

Enter Qatar: the highly controversial recipient of the 2022 World Cup. One of the chief issues at play in last month’s indictments against FIFA representatives is the bribery of officials by Qatari interests – backroom arrangements involving illicit cash transfers that may have ultimately secured the rights to the World Cup for the Gulf state.

Outside of the excruciatingly high and perhaps disqualifying temperatures in Qatar (desert conditions can reach as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit), critics also say that the nation’s abusive labor practices should bar it from hosting the Cup. The massive development projects currently underway to build stadiums for the tournament depend on inhumanely treated and miserably compensated migrant workers from Southeastern Asia, including Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, and Indian workers. According to reports, as many as 1,200 workers have died since construction projects began in 2010. To put this in perspective, the closest contemporary fatality rate for a massive world sports competition development project was the Sochi Olympics, which saw the deaths of 60 workers. The Guardian projects that migrant worker deaths in Qatar could reach as high as 4,000 by the completion of the project.

Qatar’s ruthless labor practices don’t stop there. Reports indicate that workers are compelled to work in scorching weather with little to no access to water. Often hired through third-party brokers, workers have their passports confiscated by employers upon arrival and face hefty contractor fees that largely negate their salaries. Recently, Nepalese workers were denied the right to return home to attend funerals for family members that perished in Nepal’s catastrophic earthquake.

Taken together, all of these components paint a picture of virtual slavery, tacitly endorsed by a mum FIFA.

Additionally, FIFA’s damaging effects on developing countries emerged as a big issue during the Brazil Cup. An ordinance that barred alcohol sales during soccer matches – legislation that, after it was passed, drastically decreased violence during sporting events in Brazil – was rescinded in order to placate Budweiser, one of FIFA’s biggest sponsors. FIFA shrugged off criticism concerning its stance on local autonomy, flippantly suggested that Brazilian authorities simply had no say as to whether or not its own laws were enforced.

The supposed economic benefits of hosting the game was also proven erroneous. Brazil constructed the second most expensive stadium ever built, and it is now used primarily as a parking lot for public buses. The nation saw widespread demonstrations and unrest due to the perceived waste of government spending for a temporary event that catered primarily to foreign tourists and fans to the detriment of Brazilian citizens.

In the world of global sports, FIFA ranks among the most profitable organizations. This is due largely to the fact that soccer is by-and-large the world’s most popular sport. Between 2011 and 2014, FIFA earned around $5.7 billion, $1.6 billion of which came from corporate sponsorships alone. With labor abuses and internal corruption, FIFA’s unethical practices and sizable profit margin distract from the lofty principles of peaceful and honorable competition.

Whether or not the United States-led indictments lead to an overhaul of FIFA’s operations remains to be seen. Sepp Blatter – the long-time, controversial president of FIFA – was recently reelected to his position despite the scandal. Infamous for his suggestion that women’s soccer would be more popular if the athletes wore tighter uniforms, Blatter is criticized as out-of-touch and emblematic of the entrenched elite that control the mechanisms behind the institution.

The definition of what constitutes a nonprofit varies around the world, but at the core of the definition is the idea that an organization empowers people or otherwise contributes positively to human experience by promoting constructive causes. Sports are certainly an empowering cause, helping further everything from gender equality to health, economic opportunity to cultural understanding. FIFA’s stated mission is dedicated to “the constant improvement of football.” Whether or not it actually pursues this goal according to the values expected of an international nonprofit institution is contingent on rooting out structural abuses and aggressively advocating international standards of human rights for the benefit of all people from around the globe.

NFL Punts Its Nonprofit Status

Over the past year, Key Elements Group has provided ongoing coverage of the controversies facing one of the most profitable nonprofits in the United States – the National Football League. In the wake of domestic violence scandals and soaring profits and salaries for its executive staff, the NFL began attracting more and more public and media scrutiny, particularly over its tax-exemption status.

Evidently, this attention had some effect.

The NFL announced Tuesday, April 29 that it was relinquishing its tax-exemption status. As a nonprofit, team owners pay into the league in a form of dues, which go toward administering the league and paying out the gargantuan (untaxed) paychecks of its chief executives. Roger Goodell – the league’s commissioner – made a staggering $35 million in 2013. A lot of the NFL’s earnings are distributed back to teams, however, which as taxable entities consequently pay up. This doesn’t stop some team owners, however, from bullying cities for preferential treatment and kickbacks.

Goodell announced to the press that the “league office and its management council will file returns as taxable entities for 2015 fiscal year,” referring to its nonprofit status as a “distraction.”

Commentators point out that a primary catalyst behind the move is a desire for less transparency. By law, nonprofits must reveal how much money top-level employees make. Under the new tax categorization, the NFL will not have to reveal just how well-compensated executives like Roger Goodell truly are.

The moral of this story? Bad media attention can force hands.

With executive missteps over the year’s spate of domestic violence cases, looming lawsuits over the longterm health issues faced by former players, and the extraordinary compensation enjoyed by NFL elite, the tax-free treatment that league cadres enjoyed was a bit too much for the nation to bear.

The NCAA and Gender Equality: Less-Than-Perfect

For this installment of the Key Elements Group’s March Madness coverage, we turn to women’s sports, asking several questions: How well does the NCAA balance its responsibilities between men’s and women’s collegiate athletics? How does the organization lives up to its responsibilities under Title IX? And – ultimately – does its actual commitment to gender equality line up with its mission statement?

The promotion of women’s sports is a foundational strategy for improving women’s rights across the globe. A recent UN report underscores just how valuable athletics are for breaking gender stereotypes, teaching teamwork and problem solving skills to young girls, and bringing women out of the shadows in repressive countries.

In this particular area, the United States outshines most of the world. According to the Independent, the United States – home to five of the top ten highest paid female athletes – is the single best nation for women’s sports. U.S. female athletes have gained world-renown in sports including golf, tennis, and soccer. The cultural shift that opened up this pathway stems largely from the implementation of Title IX in the 1970s.

Title IX – a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 – stipulates that:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

The provision applies broadly to any institution of higher learning that receives federal funding, mandating that women receive the same opportunities as men. This includes everything from scholarships, access to university services, and the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, including sports. As more and more high school girls train in the hopes of receiving sports scholarships, the relative success of Title IX emerges; in 1971, only 294,000 female high school students played sports, as opposed to nearly 3.2 million in 2011.

Over the years, Title IX has been subject to controversy, with opponents labeling the provision as overly politically correct, divisive, and divorced from the reality of collegiate athletics. Certain men’s sports – including many soccer, wrestling, and baseball – have indeed struggled in the post-Title IX era. Daily Caller columnist Eric McErlain remarks that Title IX is directly responsible for this, arguing that the gender quota system causes “profound damage” to men’s sports.

But cuts in men’s programs have more to do with Byzantine scholarship requirements set by the NCAA. Writing for ESPNW, Peter Keating discusses how universities scapegoat Title IX instead of addressing the real culprit behind cash-starved sports programs. NCAA Division I bylaws place limits on the number of scholarships that athletes from a particular sport can receive, giving preferential treatment to the two top money-making sports – men’s basketball and football. Keating writes:

Put simply, scholarship limits protect and promote revenue sports. The NCAA allows individual schools to fund specific men’s sports only to the degree that those sports make money nationally. That means LSU — or any other school — can’t give out more than 11.7 [the max set by NCAA bylaws] baseball scholarships, even if it were willing to shift grants from its basketball or football or golf teams.

The scholarship limits for non-profitable sports are arbitrary and are applied to all NCAA member schools. There is no correlation between the number of scholarships offered and the general popularity of a sport. This hurts the image of women’s athletics, as Title IX opponents point to the proliferation of unpopular women’s sports with low participation as proof of the law’s ineffectiveness and its detriment to male athletes. If schools did not have random limits imposed by the NCAA, they could offer scholarships that reflect actual interest levels, and do so equally for men and women.

There are a number of other telling facts that paint a less-than-rosy picture of gender equality in collegiate athletics. The Women’s Sports Foundation – a nonprofit founded by tennis legend Billie Jean King – reveals how women still lag behind men in athletic opportunity: female high school athletes receive 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports than male students; women have 63,000 fewer opportunities in athletics at NCAA institutions than men; and women receive $183 million less in NCAA athletic scholarships than their male counterparts.

These numbers speak for themselves. The NCAA is failing to promote academic excellence through athletics equally for men and women. The business of collegiate sports once again supersedes the importance of the NCAA’s nonprofit mission. Women are ideal recipients of athletic scholarships, and not only because of the inherent justness of gender equality; women are exemplary of the mythic student-athlete celebrated by the NCAA, often performing better academically than their male counterparts.

The ever-growing focus on the business of collegiate sports is also adversely affecting women coaches. During the advent of Title IX, about 90 percent of female teams had women coaches. Now, that number is down to 43 percent. Even in women’s collegiate basketball – which has historically been dominated by female coaches – men are making inroads, due in part to more money flowing into the game. This trend is chiefly alarming because women simply do not have the same opportunity to coach men’s sports. While the San Antonio Spurs hiring last year of former WNBA player Becky Hammon as the NBA’s first-ever female assistant coach is a step in the right direction, men still appear to benefit from the prevailing system, enjoying greater consideration for top positions than women.


Taken together, there is still much to be done. The NCAA’s failure to live up to its responsibilities to women athletes is in part due to the broken policies that privilege big schools with big money-making basketball and football teams. But with an unequal distribution of scholarships and the systemic advantage men have in procuring top jobs in college sports, the organization evidently needs a holistic strategy for pursuing greater gender equality.

A Look Into the NCAA Nonprofit Mission

(Check back this month for continued Key Elements Group coverage on this issue)

As discussed in the previous installment of this month’s March Madness series, the NCAA’s purported mission is to foster academic achievement through athletics. In the process, the tax-exempt organization generates revenue for universities, which can be used to improve campuses and offer scholarships.

On paper, the organization is a financial powerhouse, towering over the stature and resources of many nonprofit groups. According to the 2013 NCAA 990 tax form, the organization holds just under $800 million in assets. The widespread popularity of the top money-making sports – football and basketball – evidently pays off big, with ticket sales and media rights propping up such a resource-rich organization.

These sizable earnings are contingent on the players themselves, designated by the NCAA as “student-athletes.” While many top tier athletes receive scholarships in compensation for their efforts – reenforcing the NCAA’s narrative that it supports scholarly pursuits through sports – players receive little else, as illuminated by Shabazz Napier’s comments last year that there were “hungry nights” in which he was unable to purchase food.

The NCAA’s “student-athlete” categorization undergirds the legal barrier that prevents players from receiving compensation. This was codified in the 1950s, when Ray Dennison – player for the the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies in Colorado – died after sustaining a head injury on the field. The university fought his widow’s attempt to secure workers’ comp. The case ended up in the Colorado Supreme Court, which agreed with the school’s argument that Dennison was a “student-athlete” and not an employee eligible for benefits, further stating that Fort Lewis A&M did not have to pay because it was “not in the football business.”

Over time, however, universities have increasingly appeared immersed in the sports business. The media rights for the 2013 March Madness tournament went to CBS for $10.8 billion. Ads sold for an average of $150,000 per second. In 40 out of 50 states, the single highest paid public employee is a university coach, the average pay being $2.1 million and reaching as high – in the case of Nick Saban of Alabama – as $7 million. Writing for The Atlantic, Taylor Branch uncovered tax forms that confirmed that the NCAA spent $1 million chartering private jets in 2006. In 2013, NCAA President Mark Emmert made $1.7 million.

While collegiate sports generate immense wealth, any attempt by players to capitalize on their stardom results in suspension and other penalties. Take for example the case of A.J. Green – a wide-reviewer for Georgia during the 2010 season. Green sold his own jersey from the previous season in order to raise money for a spring break trip. The NCAA suspended Green for this minor transaction, all while replica jerseys emblazoned his number still sold in the team’s swag shops (some earnings of which go to the handsomely compensated coaches).

These rules do more than keep cash-strapped players from enjoying spring break to the fullest. Kent Waldrep was a Texas Christian University running back until he was paralyzed below the neck by a gruesome tackle in 1974. The school paid for hospital bills for just under a year and abandoned Waldrep’s scholarship. Bound to a wheelchair, Waldrep brought forth a lawsuit in the 90s through which he hoped to receive workers’ comp for the high medical costs. Under the “student-athlete” defense, the case was ruled in the university’s favor in 2000.

Considering how stringent the NCAA is with regard to athletes’ legal status and how committed it is to preventing financial benefits for players, it would be paramount for the core mission – that of promoting academic achievement – to actualize through real results. The benefits, however, are murky.

Top-tier athletes spend up to 60 hours a week training, leaving very little room for academics. The NCAA’s maintains a 1-year scholarship rule, leaving it up to coaches to choose who to keep after each season. In the event of injury that renders their value as money-making athletes null, players can easily lose scholarships and thus their sole means of acquiring a degree.

NCAA guidelines require schools to use earnings from collegiate sports to tutor athletes. In the 2006-2007 school year, the NCAA distributed $19.8 million out of its Academic Enhancement Fund to Division I schools for the explicit purpose of schooling athletes. Nonetheless, many schools have players who literally cannot read and write, and many universities go to great (and illegal) extents in order to ensure player grade eligibility. This was evidenced by the recent University of North Carolina scandal in which the school employed summer “paper classes” to artificially inflate players’ grades. Indeed, two former athletes are suing the NCAA and the University of North Carolina because they were deprived a quality education because of this deceptive system.

Many individuals have simply become habituated to these practices, with players in Florida providing self-incriminating evidence during an NCAA investigation because they figured that everything was approved on account of the pervasiveness of grade-gauging and cheating.

Considering that fewer than 2 percent of athletes proceed to professional sports leagues following university, this track record is poor and makes the continued privation of student-athletes difficult to justify. While offering salaries for players is not likely the best solution, other proposals have come up. Steve Spurrier of South Carolina, for example, has proposed stipends for players.

The discussion is gaining more and more traction, with even President Obama weighing in. The NCAA is not pursuing its mission. As an op-ed in the Boston Globe states, the organization can’t have it both ways. It either needs to calibrate its practices to better serve its stated purpose, or it needs to rebrand itself.

Has the NCAA Veered off Course?

(Check back this month for continued Key Elements Group coverage on this issue)

March Madness is here again. The annual month-long tournament is one of the biggest in U.S. sports. As the 68 team bracket whittles down over the course of the month, millions of fans tune in across the country. The final between the University of Kentucky and the University of Connecticut last year alone attracted 21.2 million TV viewers.

The tournament brings together players’ dreams of athletic greatness and the United States’ unshakeable enthusiasm for college basketball. Not to mention broadcasters’ unshakeable enthusiasm for big profits.

Over the course of March, 2014 tournament ad revenues nearly exceeded the entirety of the NFL postseason that year. This, of course, includes the Superbowl, which hawks 30-second spots for $4.5 million, or about $150,000 a second. Between 1981 and 2011, the price of March Madness broadcast rights multiplied by 50. The 2014 tournament cost a gargantuan $10.8 billion, which CBS and Turner Broadcasting were more than willing to pay considering the lucrative returns.

The $10.8 billion went to the NCAA (the National Collegiate Athletic Association), a group that regulates collegiate athletics and controls media rights to college sports events.

On-and-off, the NCAA is the target of scrutiny, largely due to the fact that it is a registered 501.c.3 nonprofit. The organization’s stated purpose is to promote academic excellence and achievement through athletics. This mission – no matter how worthy it sounds – is at best marginally pursued, and at worst used as an altruistic-sounding cover for the group’s lack of transparency, its deleterious effect on general student populations, and its exploitive profiteering of student labor. This poses the question: if a nonprofit is not pursuing its mission, what exactly is it doing?

Last year, Shabazz Napier – the exceptional UConn point guard – famously opened up about his difficult college experience, informing reporters, “We’re definitely blessed to get a scholarship to our universities, but at the end of the day that doesn’t cover everything. We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food . . . but I still got to play up to my capabilities.”

On a deeper look, it is rather shocking that a key participant – whose labor makes the tournament possible – literally went nights without food while nonprofit executives and publicly-employed coaches enjoyed multi-million dollar paychecks. Napier is now a pro, playing with the Miami Heat, and is therefore in a much more secure position. But few players have that luxury – fewer than 2 percent of NCAA athletes from the two money makers (Basketball and Football) wind up in professional leagues. For hundreds of struggling players, there is no silver-lining at the end of their college careers, especially considering that tough training regimens often prevent students from receiving meaningful educations.

This month, Key Elements Group will peer into the NCAA, providing analysis on how its practices and operations contribute to athlete’s careers – both in sports and education – ultimately assessing just how well the association follows its purported goals, and asking the question: what does it mean when nonprofits veer off course?

Goodell’s Big Bonus Adds Scrutiny to the NFL’s Nonprofit Status

The NFL released its 2013 tax filing on February 13, revealing a gigantic sum awarded to Roger Goodell for his work as the league’s commissioner: a whopping $35 million.

Goodell’s net earnings consisted of his annual $3.5 million salary, along with an additional $31.1 million bonus decided upon by a small coterie of NFL team owners.

The announcement comes at a sensitive time for the NFL. Amidst high-profile domestic abuse cases and the ongoing debate concerning players’ long-term health issues, the tremendous size of Goodell’s paycheck throws yet another controversial element of the league’s operations into sharp relief: the NFL’s status as a 501(c)6 tax-exempt nonprofit.

Technically a “trade organization” under its unique nonprofit status, the NFL does not pay any corporate taxes, even though its annual revenue hovers around $9.5 billion. Other sports enterprises share this unique designation, including the National Hockey League, the Professional Golfers Association Tour, and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

The NFL’s special treatment dates to 1966, when the National Football League merged with the American Football League. Congress passed Public Law 89-800, an arcane provision which essentially expanded antitrust exemptions to include professional football, allowing the newly established league to act as a monopoly in setting highly lucrative television fees.

The same year, NFL lobbyists successfully procured an addendum to Section 501(c)6 of 26 U.S.C. of the Internal Revenue Code that broadened the criteria for what sorts of organizations qualify for tax-exemption to specifically include professional football leagues.

The NFL’s privileged role vis-a-vis the average tax payer is further underscored by the generous amount of public funding the league’s highly profitable teams receive. According to urban planning specialist and Harvard faculty member Judith Grant Long, a number of teams – 12 in all – have turned profits on public subsidies alone, not including any of the immense profits garnered by the teams through ticket sales, concessions, or broadcasting rights.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, however, are challenging the league’s tax-exempt status. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, representative of Utah’s 3rd district, is championing such a bill. ”To say establishments like the NFL are not for profit organizations is laughable. They are a for-profit and should be taxed as such,” the lawmaker told Buzzfeed.

Local politicians are putting the pressure on as well, as a group of legislators in New York City are pushing bills that would revoke the NFL’s nonprofit status within the state. This measure wouldn’t hold up against federal tax law, but is designed to pressure national legislators to take action.

Currently, public opinion concerning the league’s tax exemption is tepid. Indeed, only 13 percent of survey respondents could accurately identify the league as a nonprofit. But debate over the issue is growing. A petition on change.org titled “Revoke the Tax-Exempt Status of the National Football League” currently has nearly 429,000 supporters.

In the long-run, a number of factors will likely influence what ultimately happens to the league’s tax exemption status. The NFL’s extraordinary profits alone make it easy to question its nonprofit categorization, but the added scrutiny brought about by its bungled response to recent domestic violence controversies as well as the longterm medical issues suffered by retired players will likely elevate the discussion further.

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