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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Why do we like football?

I like watching football games and cheering for the Ravens. But I have to say that remaining a football fan is becoming difficult, even a moral dilemma.

First, the Tom Brady scandal is sickening for the message it sends to our children about cheating. And while lower-level employees were suspended over this incident, the primary benefactor of the cheating continues to work and make millions. Is there anyone who really believes that the two employees held responsible for deflating the team's footballs did so without their quarterback's knowledge?

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A second concern was recently documented by Travis Waldron, a sports reporter for The Huffington Post who conducted a study on the use of taxpayer money to build and renovate football stadiums. According to Waldron's research, "29 of the NFL's 31 stadiums have received public funds for construction or renovation." In the past 20 years, according to Waldron, "taxpayers across the country have spent nearly $7 billion on stadiums for a league that surpassed $10 billion in revenue" per year.

At a time when we are cutting public school funding for our children, politicians continue to give millions to billionaire NFL owners for their football stadiums. Waldron documented the use of $424 million of public funds to build a stadium for the Cincinnati Bengals, "in a city that later had to sell a public hospital to close budget holes." According to David Williams, president of Taxpayers Protection Alliance, these stadiums are "nothing more than monuments to corporate welfare." In addition, NFL teams enjoy property and sales tax exemptions that reduce city and state funds available for schools and other public services.

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Do cities see a return on their investments? No, according to most economists who have studied this question. Robert Baade, professor of economics at Lake Forest College, for example, found that publicly financed stadiums are not worth their price and the benefits stadiums bring do not align with their costs.

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"The public sector is underwriting most of the risk," Baade found, "while most of the benefits that accrue, accrue to the teams."

A third issue has to do with the treatment of NFL cheerleaders. I'm not a fan of cheerleaders and wonder why we still have them in 2015. Nevertheless, if we are going to have professional cheerleaders, NFL teams should pay and treat them fairly. But a recent report by New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez found that cheerleaders for most NFL teams are paid below minimum wage and receive few employer protections provided by most employers.

According to Rozic and Gonzalez, "In just the last two years, professional cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals have filed wage theft lawsuits against their respective teams, alleging labor violations including misclassification, meaning that some cheerleaders were treated as independent contractors, not as employees, and therefore didn't receive the wages or benefits they deserved." The complaints, according to Rozic and Gonzalez, "reveal a pattern of abuse, including failure to pay in a timely manner or at all, failure to reimburse for mandatory expenses or to adhere to basic requirements under state labor laws." Thus far, according to this report, "the Raiders and Buccaneers have settled lawsuits by agreeing to pay more than $2 million in back wages."

Why does it take a lawsuit for NFL teams, which are valued at a total of about $63 billion in 2015, to pay their cheerleaders a minimum wage when teams make millions off the sale of cheerleader calendars and other merchandise featuring cheerleader pictures? This is an example of the rich getting richer off the backs of workers who, in some cases, aren't even making a minimum wage. It is shameful.

Finally, according to a recent report in The New York Times by Jason Breslow, "Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they've examined and in 79 percent of all football players (this includes college and high school players they have studied). The disease is widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma to the head, and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression and dementia." According to Breslow, "40 percent of those who tested positive were the offensive and defensive linemen who come into contact with one another on every play of a game suggesting that it's the repeat, more minor head trauma that occurs regularly in football that may pose the greatest risk to players, as opposed to just the sometimes violent collisions that cause concussions."

So, I ask: Why do we like football?

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is the Laurence J. Adams Distinguished Chair in Special Education and Coordinator of the Human Services Management Graduate Program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.


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