Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Congress Steps off Sidelines in Sports Flap Pro-Football Team Relocations Spark Hearings

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Congress Steps off Sidelines in Sports Flap Pro-Football Team Relocations Spark Hearings

Article excerpt

WHILE most football fans are focusing on the pre-game hype for this Sunday's Super Bowl in Arizona, football owners this week were turning their attention to a battle brewing on Capitol Hill.

On one side is the National Football League commissioner, big-city mayors, and a host of Cleveland, Chicago, and Houston fans who want to stop their hometown teams from moving to other cities.

Their opponents are 30 well-heeled NFL team owners - some of whom are bucking fan loyalties in attempts to keep their franchises profitable.

Now, congressional lawmakers are stepping into the fray, offering a window on what happens when two of America's most closely followed professions tangle.

On Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he wants Congress to give the league a limited federal antitrust exemption that would allow the NFL to block team moves.

When the NFL tried to stop the the then-Los Angeles Rams from moving to St. Louis, threats of billion-dollar lawsuits forced the league to back down.

This time the fuss is mostly over Cleveland owner Art Modell's plans to move the Browns to Baltimore.

Like most industries that have important legislation before Congress, Mr. Modell and other owners have been making substantial political donations in recent years. During the last six years, NFL team owners have directly contributed about $260,000 to congressional campaigns.

"These owners give money in such large amounts for one reason - to preserve the status quo," says Jay Youngclaus of the Center for Responsive Politics. "Owners are at the mercy of Congress as it relates to the antitrust issue, and any legislative changes could mean a loss of millions to their bottom lines."

But political donations may not carry as much clout with lawmakers hearing from fans and taxpayers in their district. …

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