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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that the NFL should no longer receive tax breaks from public entities, including government funding for new stadiums.
Sanders addressed the issue during the daily press briefing after President Donald Trump tweeted that the NFL should lose “tax breaks” due to the actions of some players during the playing of the national anthem before games.
“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” Trump tweeted. “Change tax law!”
It appeared that Trump was talking about the former tax-exempt status of the NFL league office, which was done away with in 2015. Even further, none of the 32 members teams were tax exempt before that time – only the league office. At the time of the switch, the NFL said the change in tax status was not material to its financial situation but it was doing so to avoid continued scrutiny.
When asked about the inconsistency, Sanders pivoted to the vague idea of tax breaks and stadium funding.
“While the NFL may have given up its tax-exempt status a few years ago, it’s been well documented that billions of dollars continue to subsidize the construction and renovation of professional sports stadiums,” said Sanders. “If this industry is going to use money from American taxpayers to build the very fields they play on, then is it really too much to ask that they show respect for the American flag at the beginning of the game?”
It was pointed out that many of these subsidies come from state and local government, not the federal government. Sanders said that the president isn’t telling local governments what to do, but was simply mentioning a correlation.
As to what “tax law” Trump was referring to, Sanders was not clear but did acknowledge that federal tax law had nothing to do with the issue.
Public funding for stadiums has been a hot topic over the past few years, as claims that it boosts local economies came under fire. Additionally, many cities with dire financial obligations have contributed millions in funding to new facilities for major sports teams.
The comments by Sanders are another attack in a multi-week fight between Trump and the NFL.
NFL players have been protesting for over a year by kneeling or sitting during the national anthem in order to draw attention to unequal treatment of minorities in America, particularly the killing of unarmed black men by police.
Trump suggested at a September rally in Alabama that NFL owners should bench any “son of a b—-” who doesn’t stand for the anthem.
This ignited a vocal response from NFL players and owners alike. Despite the pushback, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell caved on Tuesday, saying in a letter to teams that the league wants all players to stand for the anthem.