When an entrenched industry faces a serious threat to its market share, the typical response, at least in the United States, is to seek government protection, typically in the form of subsidies or regulation. The latter is employed for two reasons: To discourage new entrants from the market and to tie the incumbent firms’ continued success to a government bureaucracy. This is usually referred to as “regulatory capture.”
With the NFL and other leagues facing increased litigation over their liability for brain injuries (concussions) suffered by athletes, it stands to reason at some point, the powers-that-be will seek protection from the government in the form of regulation. Rather than face a patchwork of new state laws, the NFL would likely seek congressional approval for a national regulatory scheme.
The basis for such a scheme would be government “licensing” of athletes. Many states already do this with boxers and mixed martial artists. It’s not much of a stretch to argue the government should regulate full-contact football players in a similar fashion. A hypothetical Federal Football Commission could require all players, starting in high school, to submit to annual government physicals. The FFC would obviously have to establish “minimum” standards for playing football, as well equipment and other rule-making powers now exercised by individual leagues.
In exchange for surrendering some of its power, the NFL, NCAA and other leagues would gain legal immunity from player lawsuits. Such is the nature of regulatory schemes; they displace common law principles of tort liability in favor of more industry-friendly government standards. The leagues, of course, would still wield enormous influence over rule-making via well-paid lobbyists. Meanwhile, players would lose even the meager collective bargaining rights they now exercise through government-approved labor unions.
If and when government licensing becomes a reality, it will not be a shock. The state and football are already connected at the molecular level, from state universities that sponsor major college programs to government stadium subsidies. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent announcement for $30 million in funding to study athlete health problems–via a donation to the government-controlled National Institutes of Health–touted the potential benefits to the military.
The only losers here, naturally, will be players and consumers. Government-regulated football won’t be any safer than today’s game, and tomorrow’s players will have even less of a voice in the process than they do now. Licensing also makes any product or service more expensive. Just imagine a future “football tax” added to your ticket or cable bill to help subsidize the new Federal Football Commission. After all, it’s not like the NFL will pay for it themselves; they don’t even pay for their own stadiums.
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