Politics has always been a contact sport, and the National Football League is suiting up for the game.
The NFL has established a Washington office in the last year,
hired a full-time lobbyist and created a political action committee
to make federal campaign donations. The moves come as a work
stoppage looms as a possibility in two years, which could generate
some unwelcome congressional attention for the league.
The NFL also is facing more immediate controversies from how
games are broadcast to whether a ban on Internet gambling on games
should be continued.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, the son of a former New York
Republican congressman and senator, orchestrated the Washington
blitz after talking with owners on the league's legislative
committee three years ago. That committee was making a presentation
to the owners on Tuesday at the NFL's annual meeting in California.
"I agreed with those who told me that during these changing
times in Washington, the league should have full-time
representation there like so many other business and entertainment
organizations that have issues on the Hill," Goodell told The
Associated Press in a statement.
Coincidentally or not, the NFL player's union last week chose
Washington lawyer DeMaurice Smith as its new executive director,
replacing the late Gene Upshaw, who had predicted a lockout. Smith
served on the Obama transition team and previously worked for Eric
Holder, who is the nation's attorney general.
Washington Redskins safety Fred Smoot said he thinks Smith's
connections will come in handy if Congress gets involved in an NFL
"He knows all the steps to take, and I think we made a very
smart decision on that," Smoot said during a recent visit to
Capitol Hill to lobby for a fitness bill.
The NFL hired Capitol Hill veteran Jeff Miller, 38, to serve as
its in-house lobbyist. Miller spent eight years as an aide to Sen.
Herb Kohl, most recently as chief counsel and staff director of the
Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, which Kohl chairs. Kohl, a
Wisconsin Democrat, owns the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team.
"I'm a lifelong NFL fan, grew up in Wisconsin, rooted for the
Packers at my father's knee every Sunday," Miller told The AP in
his first interview since taking the job. "I had had opportunities
in the past to leave the Hill and do other things, such as work at
a law firm and lobby firm. But when the NFL calls, you can't turn
Among his tasks: Leading the effort among major sports leagues
to protect a ban on Internet gambling, which some members of
Congress want to overturn.
"We want to maintain the integrity of the game, and gambling
threatens that," he said.
Miller said the league will also be watching as Congress renews
satellite broadcasting legislation. The NFL must respond to any
changes, Miller said, "because so much of our business is finding
the most fan-friendly way to get our games to the people who want
to watch them."
Members of Congress have criticized some of the NFL's
broadcasting policies. Last year, for example, 13 senators wrote to
Goodell, asking him to make NFL Network games available to more
fans on free television. The league has said it provides free
broadcasts in the home cities of competing teams, but the senators
argued that the NFL too narrowly interprets "home markets."
Prior to Miller's hiring, the NFL outsourced its Washington work
to outside lobbyists, and has continued to do that on some issues.
"The emphasis is to have a full-time person spending every
waking moment thinking about how what Congress or the
administration is doing is going to affect the NFL's business
model," Miller said.
Miller's operation is overseen by NFL vice president Joe Browne,
who is based at league headquarters in New York. In a phone
interview, Browne said the league looked around, and saw that other
entertainment businesses and sports had full-time Washington
operations. Major League Baseball, for example, brought on a
full-time lobbyist in 2000.
"It was time for us to come into the 21st century," Browne
said. He pointed out that Goodell, given his political lineage -
his father was Charles Goodell, who served in the House in the
1960s and the Senate from 1968-71, "appreciates the role that
Congress plays perhaps more than some do."
Browne coined the name of the NFL's new "Gridiron PAC," which
raised $313,000 through the end of last year, the most recent
reporting period. Donors included NFL officials such as Goodell, as
well as owners and executives of all but two of the league's 32
teams. The only holdouts: the Oakland Raiders, owned by longtime
league nemesis Al Davis, and the Cleveland Browns. Neither team
returned telephone messages seeking comment.
The PAC's first campaign donations will show up in quarterly
disclosures next month.
Browne said the prospect of labor troubles wasn't a factor in
establishing the PAC and the Washington office, noting that over
the years, the league and the union have come before Congress
together to work for common goals. But the NFL's long history of
labor peace is in jeopardy; last year, the owners voted to opt out
of the current collective bargaining agreement in 2011, raising the
possibility of a work stoppage in two years.
If baseball's experience with the 1994-95 strike is any
indication, the NFL could be in for some unfriendly reaction on
Capitol Hill. Several lawmakers introduced legislation to take away
MLB's coveted antitrust exemption after the 232-day strike wiped
out the 1994 World Series.