WASHINGTON – Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) challenged the NFL's tax-exempt status Tuesday, arguing that the money the league saves in tax payments could be put to better use funding programs to help address domestic violence.
"Why does the NFL need a tax-exempt status when we could be redirecting the money to domestic violence and treatment programs?" Booker asked at a high-profile Senate hearing into how professional sports leagues and players' unions have handled domestic violence.
Booker posed his questions to ex-Eagle Troy Vincent, a former players' union leader who was representing the NFL as the league's executive vice president of football operations.
"I have to justify to my constituents why the NFL, this multi-billion dollar organization, has tax-exempt status," Booker said.
Vincent said the NFL is run like trade associations – which enjoy tax-exempt status – and that it makes significant donations to charities. The league has had the benefit of its tax standing since the 1940s, and while it was been questioned from time to time, it has not been altered.
Ending tax benefits for the NFL and other sports leagues would yield more than $100 million in new revenue over 10 years, according to Booker, providing revenue to fund other programs.
"Right now it seems we have to rely on the charity of the NFL and I don't think that's adequate," Booker said.
Booker pointed out that Major League Baseball does not enjoy similar status. He asked MLB's Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre – the longtime Yankees manager – if that has hurt baseball's bottom line.
"I don't think so," Torre said.
"I don't think so, either," said Booker.
Representatives of the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB attended, along with officials from the players' unions of each of the four sports.
Vincent gave emotional testimony on the NFL's behalf, nearing tears several times, starting just after he told of seeing his mother beaten when he was a child. Several times he said the league made a mistake when disciplining former Ravens running back Ray Rice after he punched his then-fiancee, knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator.
"We've made mistakes, we've been humbled, and we're accepting of the criticism we've received," Vincent told a hostile panel of senators.
Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) pressed Vincent on why the NFL did not make more of an effort to see the infamous second video of Rice – the one showing the actual punch that knocked out Janay Rice – before disciplining the player. An initial video that was uncovered by TMZ showed only the aftermath of his punch, but the second, more jarring video was widely available.
Vincent said the first video should have been enough for the league to dole out tougher punishment in the first place.
"We failed, the commissioner failed, to impose the proper discipline in the Ray Rice case in the very beginning," Vincent responded.
An initial two-game ban was increased only after a public outcry and release of the second video. But that indefinite ban was overturned Friday after a judge said there were no new facts to justify it.