The U.S. Government's Battles With Professional Sports
Soccer isn't the only sport that has felt the heat over the past few years.
Professional sports are ripe for corruption: The proliferation of vast sums of cash and competition in zero-sum games push people to actions on the edges of legality. But other scandals require oversight as well: controversy over team names, tax exemptions, and other non-illegal but controversial dealings compel government figures to interfere.
U.S. Attorneys Take on FIFA
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Wednesday that the United States was pursuing criminal charges against 14 defendants in a case involving FIFA, the world's governing soccer body. Among the charges: money laundering, corruption, racketeering, and obstruction of justice. The United States can bring charges against international figures because FIFA's dealings have intersected with the U.S. financial system. Law enforcement officials in Switzerland, where seven individuals were arrested, are working with the United States to extradite the accused.
Steriods in Baseball
Perhaps the most widely publicized federal investigation into professional sports was the 20-month Senate investigation of steroid use in major league baseball. Former Senator George Mitchell, a Democrat from Maine, commissioned the 409-page report that was released in 2007. (Congress can investigate and regulate professional sports under the interstate commerce clause of the constitution.) The report identified 86 players involved in steroid or performance-enhancing drug use—most notable among them, Roger Clemens. Bud Selig, then baseball's commissioner, called the findings "a call to action." The MLB's drug testing policies became more stringent after the report was released.
The Washington Football Team
Last summer, the U.S. patent office canceled six of the Redskins' trademark logos because the office considered the team's name "disparaging to Native Americans." The effect was to weaken the team's ability to thwart counterfeit merchandisers. The team has been under increasing public and government pressure to change its name over the last several years. In 2014, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. "The National Football League can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur," the bipartisan pair of legislators wrote.
The (Dropped) Case Against Lance Armstrong
For two years, U.S. attorneys investigated cyclist Lance Armstrong over allegations that he operated a doping ring while riding professionally, and thus defrauded his sponsors. The investigation was dropped in 2012 for unclear reasons. Armstrong admitted publicly to taking performance enhancing drugs in January 2013.
The NFL's Tax-Exempt Status
Facing political pressure from Congress, the NFL decided to drop its tax-exempt status in April. Its tax exemption was a magnet for criticism: The U.S. treasury was missing out on millions of tax dollars from an organization that aims to take in $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027. "Professional sports organizations aren't fooling anybody," House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said in January. "Organizations like the NFL and NHL are for-profit businesses making millions of dollars each year. These are not charities nor are they traditional trade organizations. They are for-profit businesses and should be taxed as such."
Operation Hook Shot
In 2011, the Justice Department charged 10 people with the conspiracy to commit sports bribery, and the operation of an illegal gambling ring. Two former University of San Diego basketball players (one of whom was an all-time top scorer for the school) and an assistant coach were alleged to have attempted to influence the final scores of basketball games during the 2009-2010 NCAA men's basketball season, so that accomplices could make the right bets in Las Vegas casinos. According to the Justice Department, the scheme—which also involved the distribution of marijuana—netted $120,000. A total of ten people were indicted in the case as the result of the FBI investigation dubbed "Operation Hook Shot."