(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today introduced the Sustained Promotion Of Responsibility In Team Sports (SPORTS) Act, which would sunset the four major professional sports leagues’ (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) permanent anti-trust exemption, and replace it with an every-five-years reauthorization conditioned on the leagues acting consistently with the public trust their special status requires. Largely unchanged since 1961, these exemptions have provided significant financial support and other benefits for the leagues regardless of their actions.
Under the SPORTS Act, the leagues’ antitrust exemptions would sunset one year after the bill’s enactment. Before the exemptions sunset, Congress will go through an expedited process—comparable to the budget reconciliation process—that guarantees an up or down vote on a five year reauthorization.
“When young people see athletes committing acts of violence, and when those acts are excused, glossed over, and given pathetically weak punishments, they learn that domestic violence is not taken seriously,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “They learn that they will not be taken seriously if they report abuse. They learn that they can get away with committing abuse against others. The country affords these teams their special status because of their special role in American culture, but that doesn’t give them the right to abuse this privilege. The era of the blank check for sports leagues must end.
“I appreciate the words from the leagues at today’s Commerce Committee hearing, but words are easy. Actions are hard. So far the leagues’ actions have been inadequate and unaccountable. Sunsetting the antitrust exemption helps assure accountability for stronger sanctions against domestic violence and aid to organizations that assist survivors of domestic violence.”
The SPORTS Act creates a process that will repeat every time the exemptions are set to sunset, creating a system in which Congress has an up-or-down, majority vote on reauthorization every five years. There will be no filibusters or other dilatory tactics that could delay a reauthorization and inappropriately disrupt the leagues’ operations. And there will be no amendments, so no unjustified policy changes will move through as part of this potentially must-pass legislation.
Ninety-five days before each exemption is scheduled to sunset, a special commission, composed of heads of Executive Branch offices with jurisdiction over issues relevant to the leagues, will provide Congress with a report regarding the leagues’ behavior. In particular, the Commission’s report will discuss how the leagues have treated their employees and how they have responded to inappropriate conduct by their employees and owners. The Commission’s report will ensure that before Congress decides whether to grant the leagues a public benefit—their antitrust exemptions—it has access to a thorough, fair, and honest assessment of whether the leagues have served or harmed the public interest.