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Dem wants federal government to review personal conduct in sports leagues to stop domestic violence


Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is proposing that the federal government conduct periodic, in-depth reviews of the personal conduct of everyone in professional football, baseball, hockey and basketball leagues, in an effort to curb domestic violence.

Under new legislation from Blumenthal, Congress could decide to strip these leagues of their various antitrust exemptions if they aren't doing enough to prevent this violence.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 8.37.59 AM Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has proposed legislation that would tie sports leagues' antitrust exemptions to the conduct of players and staff.
Image: AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke

The bill is the latest reaction to a series of domestic violence incidents, particularly in the National Football League. Earlier this year, a video surfaced showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-finance unconscious.

Many were critical of the NFL's response, which was to suspend Rice for two games, and the NFL responded by proposing a lifetime ban. This week, Rice won his appeal of that tougher decision.

Anger over that incident and others has led to increased interest over whether Congress should rein in some of the perks that professional sports leagues are granted by the government. For example, the NFL and the National Hockey League have tax-exempt status, and some have proposed ending that status.

Blumenthal's proposal would apply to the NFL and NHL, as well as Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. It would end the permanent antitrust exemptions that all four of these leagues enjoy, and sunset them every five years.

About three months before those exemptions expire, a government committee would sent a report to Congress detailing the personal conduct of people in each league. Congress would then get to vote on whether to extend the exemptions, based on the contents of each report.

Major League Baseball is fully exempt from all antitrust laws, which makes it easier for that league to control their franchises and players. The other leagues have partial exemptions that let them sell the broadcasting rights of all teams to a single network without violating antitrust laws.

Blumenthal said linking the exemptions to domestic violence prevention would put needed pressure on pro sports leagues to ensure their players and staff are setting a good example.

"When young people see athletes committing acts of violence, and when those acts are excused, glossed over, and given pathetically weak punishments, they learn that domestic violence is not taken seriously," Blumenthal said.

"They learn that they will not be taken seriously if they report abuse," he said. "They learn that they can get away with committing abuse against others. The country affords these teams their special status because of their special role in American culture, but that doesn't give them the right to abuse this privilege."

Representatives of all four major sports leagues appeared at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing to discuss their efforts to combat domestic violence. Troy Vincent, and former player who is now executive vice president of football operations for the NFL, broke down in tears as he describe the domestic abuse he witnessed as a child.

Vincent said the NFL is reviewing its personal conduct policy, and will create a committee to ensure sure certain standards are met by players, coaches and staff. "Our goal is nothing less than a set of clear rules to govern accountability for misconduct and to establish a fair process for player and employee discipline," he said in his prepared remarks.

Representatives from other sports leagues similarly outlined how they are working to train and advise their players and staff.

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