Tag Archives: NFL

Dear NFL, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: A Nonprofit Developer’s Critique

Bet you didn’t think one of the most profitable businesses in the country wasn’t actually a “business,” did you? The NFL is actually a nonprofit organization receiving tax exemption under code 501(c)6. What kinds of organizations fall under that classification, you ask?

“Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code provides for the exemption of business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade and professional football leagues, which are not organized for profit and no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual…A business league is an association of persons having some common business interest, the purpose of which is to promote such common interest and not to engage in a regular business of a kind ordinarily carried on for profit.”  –IRS, revised 4/24/14

Wait… what? Professional football leagues, specifically? Well that’s interesting. More interesting is how Roger Goodell’s $44 million in compensation somehow is not considered “net earnings which inures to the benefit of any individual.” Even more interesting is that, last I checked, operating a television network and licensing apparel are “ordinarily carried on for profit.” And could someone please explain how the League is able to pass the stadium construction tax burden to fans, who already pay taxes, when it earns nearly $10 billion annually? Perhaps this is why their DC and New York law firms earn the big bucks (more than $16 million last year, per the NFL’s 990).

Petitions keep popping up on Change.org to revoke the NFL’s tax-exempt status. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has introduced legislation to declassify the NFL and other professional sports leagues as tax-exempt organizations. His bill, called the Securing Assistance for Victim Empowerment (SAVE) Act, is undoubtedly a direct response to the NFL’s poor handling of domestic violence cases over the past several months; it seeks to raise $100 million over 10 years for domestic violence assistance programs.

Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell | Getty via Huffington Post
Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell | Getty via Huffington Post

Now to that end, I’d have to disagree with Sen. Booker’s approach. First and foremost, the NFL’s tax exempt status should not be revoked on account of Ray Rice or any of the other players currently decimating the League’s brand image by way of domestic violence. It simply is not sound governance to go about restructuring entire corporations (exempt or not) because of employees’ behavior (egregious as it is). Though domestic violence prevention is and should be a national priority, quite frankly it makes zero sense–from either a regulation standpoint or an economic one–to start snatching tax exemptions and awarding dollars to the cause du jour. There are too many causes that could argue and prove their rightful entitlement to a piece of the pie, from battered women and abused children to drug and alcohol rehabilitation and… the list is endless. The League’s nonprofit status should be reevaluated according to the purposes for which an organization is awarded tax exemption in the first place and whether its business activities align with those standards. Period.

That being said, if tax exemption is going to be revoked, it should be for reasons that the NFL has a) suspiciously maintained tax-exempt status even when other pro sports leagues have not (including the NBA and MLB); b) generated significant revenue conducting ordinarily taxable business–with a goal of $25 billion in revenue by 2027–,the distribution of which is not in alignment with the standards held up for other nonprofit organizations; and c) done a disservice to the local communities in which it operates by passing tax burdens to citizens for facility construction and renovation.

Personally, I believe NFL communities would benefit most from the League maintaining its nonprofit status and actually acting like a nonprofit. First, the League should abide by the same comparable compensation standards to which other exempt organizations are held. Instead of awarding $40 million bonuses to say, a commissioner, those funds should be invested in the communities the NFL calls home. Many NFL teams play in some of the most economically disadvantaged cities in the country, with high rates of at-risk youth, crime, poverty, unemployment, lacking education resources, and other pressing issues. Its earnings, then, should be invested in community-based programs to address these social issues that impact the daily lives of fans and stakeholders nationwide.

Photo:  fanfood.com
Photo: fanfood.com

I’d also like to see significant investment in player education on topics ranging from financial management to domestic violence. As we can see, the Rookie Symposium isn’t enough; the young men entering the League need much more guidance than any 3-day seminar can provide. Veteran and retired players can be integral to showing the rookies the ropes around the locker room, but subject matter experts are needed to provide ongoing support to players and their families at every stage of their careers. The League should invest in the overall development of its greatest assets, its players; from teaching them how to invest wisely, showing them better ways to give back and offering family support (in confidence) for critical issues like domestic violence and depression, to name a few. Greater emphasis should also be placed on professional development to help players cultivate their personal brands and prepare them for careers off the gridiron. These guys and their families give so much week after week, season after season; the League has a responsibility to give them the tools they need to succeed in their post-playing careers.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that the NFL does nothing to support its local communities. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Its Play60 and breast cancer awareness campaigns have done a great deal to support youth and women, among the other causes the League supports. But imagine the greater impact our communities would realize if the NFL retained its earnings for the purposes of community development, as nonprofits are supposed to do! If “together we make football,” I think football could do a lot more to support “us” across the board, instead of just its top executives. That starts with closing the loopholes and owning the responsibility. So I say, either be a business, or be a nonprofit; name your values and priorities and stick to them. Put your money where your mouth is. We’re waiting…


#SayNoToRacism #Emphatically

Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson and GM Danny Ferry. Photo: New York Times

Racism is a hot topic in our sports nation these days with former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and now Hawks owner Bruce Levenson and GM Danny Ferry coming under fire for racist remarks.   As a black businesswoman myself, I personally find Donald Sterling and Danny Ferry’s comments and prejudices deplorable, while I do not find Levenson’s words to be nearly as reprehensible as the others’. The difference? Both Sterling and Ferry made overwhelmingly derogatory statements that insulted and devalued blacks as a whole while also making egregious and erroneous attacks on two exemplary members of the black community. For Donald Sterling to say that Magic Johnson “doesn’t do anything” for black people–a man who has single-handedly transformed black communities and created jobs to propel them forward through real estate investments and movie theater and restaurant ownership– is simply ignorant. Danny Ferry was equally as ignorant, completely degrading African culture and slandering the character of a man who has not been associated with troublemaking or wrongdoing and whose foundation has impacted the lives of children on three different continents. 

Magic Johnson Enterprises serves as a catalyst for driving unparalleled business results for our partners and fostering community/economic empowerment by making available high-quality entertainment, products and services that answer the demands of ethnically diverse urban communities. Photo: Elite Daily
The Luol Deng Foundation uses basketball as tool to give hope to those in Africa, USA and the UK. Photo: Luol Deng Foundation

Levenson, on the other hand, was coming from a very different place. While his comments certainly did reflect stereotypes and generalizations that can also be labeled “ignorant,” his intention was to diagnose the lack of diversity in Phillips Arena. Strictly business, I dare say. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put it this way:

“Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in the seats. In the e-mail, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations), the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90 percent blacks, kiss cam focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans. … Seems reasonable to ask those questions. Business people should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business.”

Like Kareem, I do not absolve Levenson’s assumptions; however, as a black businesswoman I completely understand Levenson’s intention and would rather see him stay than Ferry. Honestly, I more so question his intention of “turning himself in” than his prejudices; seems more like an exit strategy to me… But I digress.

The real deal is this: racism has never been “over” and there is no such thing as a “post-racial society.” Though more subtle now than in the days of the Negro Leagues and The Black Fives, racism persists in sports despite overwhelming minority representation in professional leagues. In fact, the 2013 NBA Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC) reported that “African-Americans comprised 76.3 percent of all NBA players. Eighty-one percent of players were players of color.” The same organization reported  66.3% African American players in the NFL and 52.3% players of color in MLS. Only 8.3% of players on 2014 MLB opening day rosters were African American, an issue that the Commissioner of Baseball is working to address with his On-Field Diversity Task force. NHL numbers are far fewer, though interest in the game among minorities–as both fans and players– seems to be climbing.

Present-day racism in sport–and in life in general, actually– comes most often in the form of denied opportunities for people of color. Meaning, instead of racial slurs, hate crimes, segregated facilities and other blatant expressions of oppression that were in abundance during the Civil Rights Era, our fight is now against discriminatory and/or exclusive hiring practices that usurp minority candidates’ ability to attain positions of leadership at the executive level and other micro-aggressions that people of color are battered with daily. The NFL’s Rooney Rule was a start that has led to the hiring of 17  African-American and Latino head coached and general managers across the league since its establishment in 2003. FIFA has launched a global campaign to combat this on its fields of play, inspiring others to do so in their communities as well. Neither of these are by any means blanket solutions; however, if they work, they work and are definitely good places to start. Especially since it would be obviously impossible to change the biases and prejudices every individual in this industry–and the world– has been brought up with, spoken or unspoken, conscious or subconscious.

fifa racism
Photo: FIFA

At the end of the day, there is no place for racism is sport or society at large. It is not only flat-out wrong, but it does our entire global community a disservice by stifling the talents, perspectives and creativity that members of our worldwide community possess. Let all these incidents be a lesson: we can, and must, do better.

Sports Leagues Give Americans Something to be Thankful For.

Football and Thanksgiving go hand in hand in this country.   But for the last several years, teams and athletes across all the major US sports leagues  have given families in cities nationwide something to celebrate and be thankful for… even more than just a W on the playing field.

Power Plays around the NHL

Since 1992, the Penguins have hosted annual food drives to benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank as part of the team’s Score Against Hunger initiative.  This past Thursday, the Pens visited Bedford Hope Center in the Hill District to hand out turkeys, vegetables and other complements to local families in need, bringing an early happy Thanksgiving to several members of their community. 

penstday2 penstday1

Last season, New York Rangers alumni and staff partnered with Life Center; a Lower East Side shelter; to provide a special Thanksgiving dinner for 350 children and families who were affected by Hurricane Sandy.

MLB Pitches In

This year, the LA Dodgers went above and beyond.  Now in its 9th year, the Dodgers annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway tripled the number of meals it provided, giving over 2,000 local families the makings of  a perfect Thanksgiving meal.


Slam Dunks across the NBA

Today marked the 15th year of the Utah Jazz We Care – We Share Thanksgiving dinner, where players, coaches, executives and employees,  helped serve more than 3,600 homeless and low-income guests a warm meal.  Along with a generous early Thanksgiving dinner, the Jazz also distributed winter clothing items and set up a play area and activities for the children.


David and Lesley West of the Indiana Pacers sponsored this year’s Come to Our House Thanksgiving dinner held at the Pacers’ home at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.  More than 650 men, women and children from central Indiana shelters enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal shared with the Pacers family in the event’s 16th year.

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Former NFL Player Takes it to the House

For the last 16 years, former Falcon Warrick Dunn has given families in multiple US cities the gift of homeownership. Homes for the Holidays was founded 1997 under the umbrella of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers community initiatives during Warrick’s first year in the NFL. The program has  expanded tremendously since its inception, awarding its 129th home to a New Jersey family this month.


When people talk about the power of sport, they’re really describing a potential to use a game– any game– to capture the hearts and minds of people and make a difference in their lives.  There’s no limit on what that difference can be.  The sports community has had a tremendous impact on fans and families nationwide, from lifting spirits with simple acts of kindness to putting the seemingly unattainable within reach, and giving us all a reason to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!