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Rep. Maxine Waters: Yank the NFL's Antitrust Exemption

5 years ago
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Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) Wednesday called on Congress to end the National Football League's antitrust exemption, citing what she called willful ignorance by the league of the debilitating effects the game has had on players who suffered multiple, repeated concussions. She made her remarks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, where witnesses testified about increased rates of neurological disorders among retired professional football players.

The NFL is exempt from antitrust laws, which allows individual teams to act as one business in a variety of contract negotiations, to its own financial benefit. The league and the players union are at the beginning of collective bargaining agreements, and the U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear a petition from the NFL to expand and protect its antitrust exemption.

Waters took the NFL to task for what she said she has observed through friends who are owners and former NFL players. The congresswoman's husband, Sid Williams, played in the NFL for six years in the 1960s for four teams, including the Cleveland Browns.

She first spoke of Mike Webster, a legendary player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who died homeless at the age of 50 from dementia. Waters said Webster was involved in an ongoing legal dispute with the Steelers when he died, and "they threw him away like a rotten piece of meat. Why could he not get taken care of by the NFL?"

She targeted the league's antitrust exemption after asking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to outline the steps he is taking to compensate retired players who are now suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's and other cognitive diseases, which she said were obviously related to concussions and traumatic brain injures they sustained during their years in the NFL.

Goodell began, "We have identified that it is a priority of the owners to take better care of the retired players." He then cited a study that the NFL had commissioned to find out which priorities the players need addressed. "Some of them are medical, some of them are financial..."

Waters interrupted him. "We have heard from the NFL time and time again. You're always studying. You're always trying. You're hopeful," she said. "But I want to know now -- what are you doing in the negotiations that are going on now to deal with this problem and other problems related to the injuries of football players and the impact on their health?"

"Well again, we're in the very early stages of negotiations, but I believe we will be addressing these matters in a responsible fashion," he said. "In the meantime..."

Waters cut him off again. "I think it's time for the Congress of the U.S. to take a look at your antitrust exemption," she said. "You're an $8 billion organization who has not taken seriously your responsibilities to the players."

She said the NFL needs to recognize that injuries will always result from professional football, no matter the rules or the equipment.

"The question is, what are you going to do? Are you going to pay for it? Are you going to pay the injured players and their families for the injuries that they have received helping you to be a multibillion operation?" she asked. "I know that you do everything you can to hold onto those profits. And I think the responsibility of this Congress to take a look at the antitrust exemption that you have, and in my estimation, take it away."

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chairman of the committee said, "I thank the gentlewoman for her modest suggestions," and continued the hearing.

Filed Under: The Capitolist

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