A hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee doesn't usually make news, let alone on these here virtual pages of LIO. But Monday was a special day. It wasn't about a public-policy issue plaguing our fair nation. It wasn't about some Beltway scandal. It was about the NFL. And their pension and disability benefits system.
A high-profile hearing like this one isn't just about the issues. It also gives lawmakers an opportunity for face-time. And they used it. Not just to criticize the league on their policies, but also to certify their "good-ol-all-Americanness" by showing off just how much they love football.
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) reminisced about growing up during the glory years of the Vikings' famed Purple People Eaters defensive line, which her father, Jim, covered as a sportswriter. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who noted that she is a longtime Chiefs season-ticket holder, empathized with the injured players in the room: "I got a new knee this year and I'm limping all over the place, and I was just a cheerleader in high school, for gosh sakes!" Star-struck Cowboy fan Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) enthusiastically introduced former Dallas fullback Daryl Johnston by his nickname, "Moose."Then there was poor Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). He's been suffering, because people like him live in a non-NFL state. And suffer he does.
"The NFL is an immensely popular league. Its teams, as we know, tend to be located in our nation's large metropolitan areas, so not all states get to share in the excitement. Certainly that's the case in my state."Don't get me wrong. The issue at hand troubling. A league that has annual revenues of over $7 billion shouldn't have an average life expectancy of 55 for its players. If the NFL Alumni were a country their life expectancy would rank 182nd in the world, in between Eritrea and Madagascar. It can afford to do something, and they should. They owe it to the players who built the foundation that lead to these riches, as well as its active players now. The NFL expects its players to lay everything on the line each Sunday, and they owe it to their employees to take care of them afterwards.
As serious as the issue is, you might wonder what it's doing being debated in the halls of the Senate. The committee's true intent was likely to put public pressure and shame upon the NFL leadership in hoping for change, much like they did with MLB and steroids. But then there's John Kerry's take.
"Most Americans would look at this today and say, 'Wow, why is Congress doing this?'" noted Kerry keenly. His justification: "The game is part of the fabric of American society, and ... it seems to me the league is dropping the ball here, no pun intended."Yeah, the "fabric of American society clause." That must be in the 28th Amendment.