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In the NFL, “communism” is more about competition


Our good friend Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, who slipped on the ice in Dallas and suffered a concussion (which explains why he kept blurting out “yo yo ma!” in the press box on game day), apparently is still suffering the effects of his acute case of bumpus-on-the-nogginus.

We’re kidding. But a concussion could be one plausible explanation for Silver’s conclusion that the NFL constitutes an organization premised on communism.

Silver’s intriguing column lists the various characteristics of the league that point to the principles of people like Lenin and Stalin: sharing of television revenues, the salary cap, and a draft of incoming players. (Silver omits reference to another similar device -- a system of partially sharing unshared revenues “according to need.”) But there’s a reason for the methods employed by the league.

The NFL embraces certain aspects of communism in the name of competition. If, as we explained last night, the Cowboys were forced to (or, as owner Jerry Jones may say, allowed to) cut their own TV deals without sharing the money equally with all other teams, Jones could dominate the league. Without a salary cap, he could spend that money on any player he wanted to sign. Without a draft, he could lure Cam Newton and Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green and Marcel Dareus and Von Miller to Dallas.

The league would suffer for it, badly, with a handful of Harlem Globetrotters playing a field of Washington Generals. And so the league decided long ago that its growth would be tied to a flattening of the talent pool, via teams having relatively equal resources. By creating an environment in which franchises have an equal chance to thrive, interest remains high in every city, especially during an offseason premised on convincing fans of each team that from 0-0 a Super Bowl title can emerge.

Though the Supreme Court has concluded that the league isn’t one entity for antitrust purposes, the NFL operates more like one company than 32 separate businesses. And so when Silver says that “if my super-rich buddies and I decide we want to create a 33rd franchise and join the league, we’re told to go pound ice in Siberia,” he’s overlooking the fact that this is a party that simply can’t be crashed.

Indeed, if the league had the chance to reform itself from scratch, the NFL probably would be one company, with the owners of the teams holding shares in the privately-held corporation. This would avoid all antitrust liability, and it would not allow the players to shut down their union and sue, since one company cannot violate the antitrust laws with itself.

Still, Silver’s essay is entertaining, even if his argument is a bit flawed. His overriding goal seems to be explaining to fans who have lashed out mainly against the players that the owners bear their share of blame for the current state of the relationship between labor and management.

And they do. But not because they’re communists.