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Republican Senator targets NFL’s tax-exempt status

Senate Holds Hearing On Hurricane Sandy Recovery

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 20: Committee ranking member U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) speaks during a hearing before Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee March 20, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on “Hurricane Sandy: Getting the Recovery Right and the Value of Mitigation.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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The many NFL owners who are staunch Republicans may need to re-think their affiliations.

From Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who derailed the effort to upgrade Sun Life Stadium, to Arizona Senator John McCain, who wants to outlaw blackouts at publicly-funded stadium, and now to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who wants to remove the NFL’s tax-exempt status, a trio of Republican politicians have been putting the screws to pro football.

Coburn’s effort, as explained by Dave D’Allesandro of the Newark Star-Ledger, applies to other pro sports leagues that have shoehorned their way into non-profit status, including the NHL and the PGA. Coburn believes that stripping the assessment from the NFL and NHL alone will generate $91 million per year in additional tax income.

The specific benefit to the NFL of tax-exempt status isn’t known, but the league already has decided that the reduced tax burden justifies the inability to shield from public view the salaries paid to key officials. Commissioner Roger Goodell, for example, made nearly $30 million in the year covered by the most recent filing. If the NFL didn’t possess tax-exempt status, no one other than the league’s owners and a handful of league-office employees would know how much Goodell makes.

During the 2011 lockout, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith repeatedly included the league’s “non-profit status” in his public attacks on ownership. But the reality for the players remains a simple one -- if the NFL must pay increased taxes via the loss of the ability to fall within the borders of tax-exempt status, the owners will find a way to squeeze all or part of that money from the players, either now or when the labor deal expires in eight years.

We all should pay our fair share of taxes, and under current laws the NFL apparently is. But if enough politicians conclude that “fair” should be redefined, more cash will be separated from 32 people who have plenty of it.