The NFL voluntarily gave up its tax-exempt status two years ago, but that didn’t stop President Donald Trump from tweeting on Tuesday morning that tax law should be changed so that the NFL will no longer get “massive tax breaks.”
That’s right — in between attacking Congress, the “failing New York Times,” and ESPN host Jemele Hill, Trump said that as long as NFL players continued protesting during the national anthem, the NFL should no longer get the tax breaks that it has already voluntarily given up.
Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2017
Why is Trump so upset about tax breaks the NFL is getting, particularly when the NFL is not actually taking those tax breaks?
Well, on Monday night, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson interviewed Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Gaetz, it turns out, is the new lead sponsor of the Pro Sports Act, a bill that would permanently remove the tax-exempt status — originally granted in 1966 — from the NFL’s League Office.
“It would seem ludicrous to leave in the tax code special treatment for professional sports leagues when they are not out there shutting down behavior that is not only unpatriotic, it’s just a overgeneralized indictment,” Gaetz said.
By “unpatriotic behavior,” Gaetz is referring to the NFL players who are taking a knee or raising a fist during the national anthem as a way to protest police brutality and systemic racism, a movement that started when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the anthem last year, shortly after the police killings of Terrence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile. It’s important to note that these players are not protesting the American flag or the military, or even the anthem itself; that is merely the narrative that many on the right are trying to push so that they can avoid talking about (or even acknowledging) police brutality and systemic racism.
Notably, the Pro Sports Act wouldn’t just impact the NFL — it would also remove the tax-exempt status of the National Hockey League and the PGA Tour, two organizations that Trump has recently praised.
But on Carlson’s show, Gaetz tied the Pro Sports Act directly to the tax plan that Trump is trying to pass through Congress.
“It’s my belief that if the Congress is serious about getting rid of the loopholes and special interest giveaways in the tax code in the coming weeks, an easy place to start is by not subsidizing and not giving special treatment to professional sports leagues, particularly when the NFL League Office has embraced this unpatriotic behavior,” Gaetz told Carlson.
It would seem as though Trump, an avid Fox News viewer, saw Gaetz’s interview and decided to follow Gaetz’s lead in trying to turn his base’s hatred of the NFL protests into support for his tax bill.
Of course, this connection is tenuous at best. First of all, Gaetz failed to mention that Trump’s proposed tax plan would be a huge boost to the NFL, as it would cut the tax rates that NFL owners pay from 40 percent to 25 percent.
And, as we previously noted, neither Gaetz nor Trump brought up the fact that the NFL had already voluntarily given up its tax-exempt status, mostly due to pressure coming from activists on the left.
For years, liberal activists pushed for legislation that would strip pro sports leagues of tax-exempt status, but most in Congress were hesitant to pick up the cause, likely due to the lobbying power of the NFL. Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) created the Pro Sports Act in 2013, but the bill never received a massive amount of support from either side of the aisle. When the NFL voluntarily gave up its tax-exempt status in 2015, commissioner Roger Goodell said it did so in order to get rid of the “distraction” that the issue had become. The league argued — and most experts agree — that the tax-exempt status did not save the NFL significant money since it only applied to the league office, which predominantly serves as a pass-through entity, funneling money to the teams. There are 32 NFL teams, and 31 of them are taxed as private organizations.
In reality, the most direct way to stop the NFL benefiting from tax breaks would be to end the tax exemptions that allows for (and encourages) taxpayer money to fund the building and renovations of sports stadiums. In his 2015 budget proposal, President Barack Obama offered a plan to repeal just such exemptions.
The GOP-led congress never approved Obama’s plan.