Tag Archives: National Football League

The Genuflecting Athletes

Are you noticing all of the National Football League players who are “taking a knee” during the American National Anthem this weekend? The gesture is being interpreted as a sign of protest against the recent comments of the President of the United Sates.

Until recently, though, the gesture was never defined as a symbol of protest. Quite the contrary, it always represented a symbol of extreme respect and reverence.

The physical position is called “genuflection.” Most Americans will recognize it as  the traditional posture that people assume to propose marriage.

And throughout history, individuals assumed the stance when meeting royalty, noblemen, and high priests. The practice can be traced back to the time of Alexander The Great, and perhaps even further.

People of the Catholic faith also genuflect at certain times during Mass. There is certainly no hint of protest in that venue!

So why is the gesture now utilized as a sign of dissent during the National Anthem? Perhaps the kneeling players wish to indicate that they continue to honor their nation, even as they protest some of its flaws.

That’s a complicated interpretation, isn’t it? And yet it’s no more complex than the origins of the players’ decisions to engage in it.

Not The Game

If you were browsing through your cable television channels last weekend, you might have stumbled across the most historic sports series in American history. More historic than the World Series of baseball, which was first played in 1903. And even more historic than the Olympic Games, which were first held in 1896.

What series might you have seen? It was the Harvard / Yale annual football game, first played in 1875 and now simply known as The Game. Except for breaks during the first and second world wars, the teams have faced off every year since the dawn of the industrial age. Under Walter Camp, a player on Yale’s 1876 team who later became the father of American football, the game grew into the business juggernaut that dominates our modern sports world.

“Modern,” though, is a relative concept. Had you attended any football game at the Yale Bowl prior to last weekend, you would have taken a seat in a stadium that has never installed permanent lights for night games. Yale is the only team in the Ivy League that plays all of its games during the daylight hours, the way that Walter Camp played football in the 1870s.

Nevertheless, at least temporarily, the day-time tradition did change last weekend. Why? Because this year, for the first time in history, The Game was played into the evening hours under the lights. NBC Sports wanted to televise it, and noted that it could generate higher television ratings by broadcasting into the evening. So Yale University installed a temporary field lighting system, and The Game entered the modern age.

For the fans, of course, a night event under the lights on a chilly November evening is not The Game that was played in the sunlight of an autumn afternoon. The essential fan experience is a different one, whether one is watching in the stands or on television.

Isn’t it ironic, though, that NBC Sports was initially drawn to televising The Game because of its historic nature … and then modified the essential fan experience in pursuit of higher ratings? Although Yale undoubtedly shared in the wealth that was generated by the shift to evening hours, it sacrificed a daytime tradition that was uniquely historic in nature.

News Flash: The NFL Pays Taxes!

Did you catch the surprising news about the National Football League (NFL) last week?

No, we’re not referring to any of the results of the college draft. There weren’t any surprises there at all. The top two marquee quarterbacks in the college game, as expected, were selected #1 and #2.

And no, we’re not referring to any announcement about the NFL’s Deflate Gate scandal. No announcement whatsoever was made. Apparently, the League is no rush to release any information about its investigation into that affair.

Instead, we’re referring to the NFL’s announcement that it has decided to start paying income taxes on its earnings. Before last week, it had always opted to avoid any such taxation liability.

But hold on! Wait a minute. Huh? How can that possibly be true?

Why hasn’t the most profitable professional sports league on earth been paying income taxes on its earnings? And why has it been given a choice to “opt in” or “opt out” of the tax system throughout its existence?

Perhaps surprisingly, the American regulatory system permits various types of nonprofit organizations to declare themselves exempt from income taxation, even though they may not serve any social charitable purpose. Under Section 527 of the federal tax code, for instance, political organizations that accept financial contributions on behalf of candidates can file for exemption from income taxes.

Although such organizations may be “profitable” enterprises in a colloquial sense, they (in theory, at least) pass all of their available funds to their favored candidates. Thus, the tax code treats them as pass-through entities, and not as entities that are seeking to earn taxable profits on an independent basis.

Likewise, the NFL has always been treated as a “trade association” entity that exists to help its member teams optimize their profits, and not as an entity that is seeking to optimize its own independent earnings. That’s why the League, for instance, distributes its television revenues to its 32 professional teams.

But why did the NFL agree to start paying taxes on its profits at all? Why didn’t it simply continue its status quo tax exempt arrangement with the Internal Revenue Service? Apparently, because the League has always passed through so much of its revenue to its member teams, its potential tax liability in any given year can be characterized as “a pittance,” and is expected to remain so in the future.

More importantly, by electing to pay annual income taxes, the League can avoid disclosing certain sensitive information to the public. For instance, the salaries of the NFL’s senior officers will no longer be available for public inspection, now that the League is foregoing its tax exempt status.

So although we might be surprised that the NFL will now start paying income taxes, its motivation for doing so should be no surprise at all. After all, it’s not as if the League is acting upon an altruistic desire to contribute more resources to society. Instead, it appears to have chosen to pay taxes as the result of a sober business assessment that the benefit of keeping sensitive information confidential exceeds the cost of any annual tax liability.

Shrewd, eh?