No doubt the Republicans were happy. The National Football League, after receiving threat letters from numerous GOP congressmen, declined to promote the Affordable Healthcare Act also known as “Obamacare.”
While the right wing celebrated, I began to ponder the proper role of sports leagues in politics. Is it appropriate for the NFL to weigh in on a hot-button issue like healthcare reform? Might there even be a social responsibility to do so?
When it comes to “Obamacare,” I believe that the answer to both questions is yes. I see no reason why it would be inappropriate for the NFL to promote “Obamacare” since issues surrounding health insurance directly affect the league. In fact, I believe that the NFL may even be socially obligated to do so.
Therefore, I feel that the NFL made a major mistake when it failed to play a role in educating the public regarding the intricacies of Obamacare. By punting on the healthcare issue, the NFL did little to alleviate confusion over complex healthcare legislation and in doing so, passed up an opportunity to quell unfounded societal fears.
While many have argued that sports should remain separate from politics, the fact of the matter is that the two intertwine. Like it or not, sports leagues are affected by political decisions on a daily basis. Consider for a second how legislation involving performance-enhancing drugs affects the NFL. Better yet, think about the effects that immigration reform could have on Major League Baseball. Ultimately, political decisions can drastically affect sports leagues and thus, expecting leagues to remain outside the political fray is unfair.
Why does “Obamacare” matter to the NFL, you may ask? I can think of two major reasons. First, football is an inherently dangerous sport. Teams and players depend on health insurance on a regular basis. Like it or not, “Obamacare” directly affects health insurance coverage in this country. Thus, how could the NFL not have an interest in promoting affordable healthcare plans to its players?
The second way in which “Obamacare” affects the NFL is that a portion of the league’s fan base remains uninsured. Unless those fans procure health insurance by 2014, they will face a fine. Fined fans have less money to spend on tickets and less money to spend on NFL television packages. Uninsured fans are also at risk of financial ruin if they are forced to confront serious health problems. Therefore, if the NFL is truly interested in the well-being of its fans, as well as its own economic well being, it has an interest in educating them regarding the intricacies of “Obamacare.”
A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Along with any interest that the NFL has in promoting “Obamacare,” I would argue that the NFL has a social responsibility to promote the reforms. Like it or not, “Obamacare” is a law. In the same way that citizens are obligated to follow laws, so too are leagues. Consider for a second what might have happened if Major League Baseball refused to follow racial integration laws during the 1940s. Would there have been any Jackie Robinson?
My point is this: Just because “Obamacare” may be unpopular, the NFL should not be allowed to stand back and act as if it does not exist. Until “Obamacare” is struck down, it is the law of the land. Part of what makes this country great is its adherence to the rule of law. As long as “Obamacare” remains in effect, the NFL should do its best to not only adhere to the laws, but encourage its fans to do so as well.
THE NFL FUMBLED
When league executives stated earlier this week that the NFL had “no plans to engage in the area of [“Obamacare”], the NFL dropped the ball. Instead of taking a leading role in educating fans and players about changes in health insurance coverage, the league chose to remain silent. Rather than encouraging fans to adhere to the rule of law, the league said nothing.
At the end of the day, the NFL’s silence regarding “Obamacare” will likely not affect the continued existence of the law one way or another. Battles on the House and Senate floor will take care of that. The NFL did miss an opportunity to educate the general public about “Obamacare” and quell unfounded societal fears, however. When it comes to “Obamacare,” the NFL fumbled and ultimately, players, fans, and society as a whole will be no better for it.