Following widespread participation by National Football League players this weekend in an ongoing civil rights protest, Northwest Florida congressman Matt Gaetz has introduced a bill that would strip the NFL of its federal tax-exempt status.
The protest — which involves players sitting or taking a knee during the U.S. national anthem — was begun last season by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a statement about police shootings of black men and other mistreatment of minorities in America. Kaepernick’s protest continued to grow slowly, with a handful of other players across the league participating each week, but more than 250 NFL players participated in the protest this past weekend following controversial comments by President Donald Trump.
At a rally in Alabama on Friday, Trump called players who chose not to stand for the national anthem “sons of bitches” and said they should be fired.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Rep. Gaetz said he was “dismayed and disgusted” to see athletes sitting or kneeling during the national anthem.
“Standing for the national anthem shows respect for our nation, and for the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms,” said Gaetz. “Those hard-fought freedoms include freedom of speech, and free speech does include protest. But nowhere in the Constitution does it say that Americans are required to subsidize disrespect for America, or to have their tax dollars wasted on corporate welfare to sports teams.”
Gaetz has signed on as the lead sponsor of H.R. 296, also called the PRO (Properly Reducing Overexemptions) Sports Act, a bill originally introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who has signed resigned from Congress.
While individual teams aren’t tax-exempt, the National Football League itself has been exempted since 1966.
Last year, Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that revoking the tax-exempt status of the NFL and other sports leagues would generate approximately $150 million in new revenue over ten years.
“Tax reform is currently the top priority of Congress,” Gaetz said. “We must close this loophole in the tax code, and end taxpayer subsidies for professional athletics. If players want to protest, they have that right — but they should do it on their own time, and on their own dime.”