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A Republican Senator’s Lonely Mission to Make the NFL Pay Taxes

Coburn riding an escalator at the Capitol building
Coburn riding an escalator at the Capitol buildingPhotograph by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn introduced a bill yesterday that would strip the National Football League of its tax-exempt status. The PRO Sports Act proposed by the Republican lawmaker would prohibit professional sports organizations with annual revenue of more than $10 million from filing as nonprofit organizations. In addition to the NFL, the bill would also change the status of the National Hockey League, golf’s PGA Tour, and the ATP World Tour in tennis, among other professional sports groups.

Wondering how an organization charging $2,600 for Super Bowl tickets qualifies for tax exemptions in the first place? It’s a good question. The NFL qualifies as a 501(c)(6), a nonprofit category that includes chambers of commerce, trade groups, real estate boards, and a handful of other sports leagues. The National Basketball Association is a for-profit organization, and Major League Baseball gave up its exempt status in 2007.