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Movement in Congress Wants to Strip NFL of Anti-Trust Exemption

WASHINGTON – Several members of Congress have expressed disgust with what they view as the lenient way the National Football League has treated players accused of domestic abuse, with one asserting the sport’s anti-trust exemption should be revoked.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said recent incidences of abuse confirms that the “current leadership of the NFL cannot be trusted to fairly, genuinely implement policies that address domestic violence” and that the league “has an obligation to do better, and a position of public trust – benefiting from broad anti-trust exemptions granted by Congress, and hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer benefits.”

The anti-trust exemption provided the NFL “can no longer be a blank check,” Blumenthal said, and “can no longer be granted permanently.” He has proposed legislation to sunset the league’s special dispensation and make it renewable every five years.

Blumenthal isn’t alone expressing concern about the NFL’s handling of abuse cases. A bipartisan group of four lawmakers is circulating a petition among members of Congress urging all professional sports franchises to take strong action to bring a halt to violence against women and children.

The petition, in the form of a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has been roundly criticized for his handling of abuse cases, asserts that “when the NFL’s leadership, management and players join together to combat violence against women and children in America, the ultimate achievement will be a nation where it is simply no longer tolerated.”

“As you know, recent allegations of professional athletes committing these heinous crimes have resulted in an important national dialogue about violence against women and children in America,” the petition to Goodell said. “The truth of the matter is that domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse are daily, painful realities for many women and children across our nation. When these vicious crimes are not properly addressed and when offenders are not held accountable, the cycles of violence continue, victims remain in constant jeopardy and fear, and the very lives of women and children are at stake.”

The petition is being circulated by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas).

The NFL, the nation’s most popular sports league, has been rocked in recent weeks by reports of domestic abuse by some of the biggest names in the game and the commissioner’s understated response. Goodell has acknowledge that the league reacted poorly to the claims and has vowed to impose rules intended to assess harsher penalties.

The league already has instituted a new policy to ban players for six games for their involvement in the first incidence of domestic abuse and a ban for a second occurrence.

Public objections to the NFL’s handling of abuse cases came after Goodell suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games after he punched his then-fiancé, now wife, in the face during an altercation at an Atlantic City, NJ, casino. The initial reaction to what was perceived as a light penalty was harsh but criticism became even more strident when a video of the assault was unearthed, leading Goodell to place Rice on indefinite suspension. He subsequently was released by the Ravens.

Additional abuse cases have come into the public’s focus in wake of the Rice matter. Adrian Peterson, the star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted for beating his 4-year-old son with a switch, causing welts and bleeding on the child’s back, legs, buttocks, genitals and ankles. Greg Hardy, a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers who was convicted on two counts of abuse, is on the exempt list and not playing. Another defensive end, Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested for domestic violence but formal charges have not been filed.

Regardless, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said McDonald should be benched.

“I believe very strongly that if a player is arrested, they should be suspended, and if they are convicted, that ends it,” Feinstein said. “This has gone on too long, and this is getting too bad.”

Feinstein further said women in Congress are “amazed” at the lack of action and insisted, “These teams need to set an example for the rest of society. There has to be a strength in the league to project the values of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Feinstein was one of 16 female senators who signed a letter addressed to Goodell on Sept. 11 asserting that the steps taken thus far by the NFL don’t go far enough. The signatories said they were “shocked and disgusted by the images we saw this week of one of your players violently assaulting his now-wife and knocking her unconscious, and at new reports that the NFL may have received this video months ago. Tragically, this is not the only case of an NFL player allegedly assaulting a woman even within the last year.”

“It is long past time for the NFL to institute a real zero-tolerance policy and send a strong message that the league will not tolerate violence against women by its players, who are role models for children across America,” the letter said. “We hope the NFL will seize this opportunity to lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to the safety of women and families.”

Democrat senators signing were Barbara Mikulski of Maryland; Barbara Boxer of California; Debbie Stabenow of Michigan; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Patty Murray of Washington; Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota; Dianne Feinstein of California; Mazie Hirono of Hawaii; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Tammy Baldwin of Washington; Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

Republicans Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine also signed on.