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Corporate ownership may be the only way to fix certain issues with NFL teams

Mike Florio and Big Cat look back on the origin and history of the Rooney Rule and whether Brian Flores' lawsuit against the NFL can fix the rule's shortcomings.

The NFL consists of 32 businesses operating under Big Shield. One is a corporation. The other 31 are, basically, monarchies purchased by oligarchs.

The NFL can nudge, prod, advise these American oligarchs to do better, to do something other than what they want to do. But no one can make them do anything other than what they want to do. It’s one of the privileges of being a multi-billionaire surrounded by an army of sycophants.

The proof is in the pudding. When it comes to hiring practices, the underrepresentation of minority head coaches and General Managers is obvious. So obvious that NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent has publicly admitted that a “double standard” exists for Black coaches, and that the system is “broken.”

It’s broken because the oligarchs will always do what they want to do, with no real accountability. They want what they want, they get what they want. Whether it’s the coach they want, the workplace environment they want, the players they want, the draft position they want. And if they don’t get what they want, they do something about it.

How can the system ever change when the league is made up of 31 emperors who have no one to tell them they possibly are riding down the street butt-naked on a horse? The system will change only if these teams operate like corporations, or actually become corporations.

The 31 non-corporations will never actually behave like corporations, because one person will always have final say over any and every issue. It makes far more sense for the teams to become corporations, publicly owned (like the Packers) and publicly traded (unlike the Packers).

A corporation has a board of directors, which can be made up of broad, diverse representatives of the community in which the team is headquartered. A corporation has layers of officers and executives. A corporation has committees to oversee matters such as hiring. A corporation will have an appropriate human resources department, so that workplace misconduct can be quickly addressed and rectified.

How would it work? One team at a time. If/when at least 24 of 32 owners decide to permit individual teams to adopt a corporate structure, a team that otherwise would be sold to another oligarch would be sold through an initial public offering of shares, which would then be bought and sold and traded, with share prices going up and down based on earnings and other factors that drive stock values every day.

It would likely take many years for all or most of the teams to become corporations. One by one, however, plenty of the teams would eventually move in that direction.

There’s another reason for corporate ownership. With the value of teams constantly increasing, it’s becoming harder and harder to find people with enough money to buy controlling interest in NFL teams. Which means that the driving factor as to the owner of a given team will be whether the person has the money to buy a team, not whether the buyer is the right person to run a team.

Think about that for a second. What makes an owner qualified to own a team other than having enough money to buy the team, or being in the right genealogical position to inherit the team from a spouse, a parent, or a sibling? How does that blind question of being in the right place at the right time with the right amount of money make someone suited and fit to own and operate an NFL team?

But by virtue of wealth, privilege, and power, oligarchs acquire teams and run them as they see fit. As a result, the Washington Commanders had an inherently toxic workplace, with no effective means to rectify the situation. As a result, the NFL’s franchise have authored a troubling history of biased employment practices when it comes to the hiring, retention, and compensation of minorities for key positions like head coach and General Manager. As a result, one team currently is the target of a claim that the oligarch in charge of it coveted the top pick in the 2020 draft badly enough to offer the former head coach $100,000 for each game he lost.

While corporations aren’t immune from bad behavior, it’s far easier for bad behavior to be quickly rectified when it happens. It’s also much easier to avoid situations where one person has full and complete power to do whatever the person wants to do, whenever the person wants to do it, however the person wants to do it.

From the Washington situation to the issues raised by Brian Flores’s racial discrimination lawsuit to the controversy sparked by Flores’s claim that he was offered $100,000 to lose games on purpose, these are the kinds of things that are less likely to happen if an oligarch isn’t running the show with impunity -- and without guardrails.