The morning after the worst Super Bowl ever played, Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw (last seen having SNL give his white nationalist past plenty of cover) sent out a stupid tweet.
It’s stupid because one look at the NFL’s internal economic framework clearly demonstrates that the person he’s digging at with this tweet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would be considered a vitriolic right-winger in the NFL’s political economy. Of all the major American sports leagues, the NFL is by far the most communist, largely thanks to its revenue sharing system that accounted for $8 billion of the league’s $14.2 billion in revenue in 2017.
Firstly, let’s define communism, per Investopedia:
Communism is a political and economic ideology that positions itself in opposition to liberal democracy and capitalism, advocating instead a classless system in which the means of production are owned communally and private property is nonexistent or severely curtailed.
Put aside the affront to capitalism aspect and focus on the “means of production being owned communally, while private property is nonexistent or severely curtailed.” The means of production for the NFL is mainly its (communal) TV contracts with ESPN, DirecTV, FOX, CBS, NBC and Verizon which generate tens of billions of dollars each year. Unlike other leagues, no one team can claim private property and negotiate a TV contract on its own.
While the NBA also generates billions from TV contracts, it has a complicated system that tilts profits towards larger market teams that appear on TV more often, like the Los Angeles Lakers. MLB requires its teams to share 34% of their TV revenue with other teams, meaning that baseball franchises in larger markets can generate more revenue for themselves than teams in smaller markets can.
The NFL eschews this capitalistic model that tilts the playing field towards richer franchises for a fully communist (ish) TV revenue sharing system, where all 32 teams make the same amount of money from the NFL’s lucrative TV deals. The NFL then combines this with a hard salary cap which ensures that no team can spend more than a certain amount of money on its roster (next year the max amount any team can spend is $190 million—equivalent to the cost of 36 Super Bowl commercials), and what we are left with is a system where Kansas City can spend just as much as New York or Chicago thanks to both handing out free cash to every team and restricting how much they can spend. If you said that Kansas City can spend as much as New York or Chicago in baseball, you would sound like you had never even heard of MLB.
The reason why the NFL’s salary cap is so low relative to the billions in revenue the league rakes in is thanks to a grim capitalistic reality: because profit is the main goal of capitalism, and profit is revenue minus costs, the logical endpoint of capitalism is to reduce costs to zero while raising revenue to infinity. In almost every single industry, labor is the biggest cost, meaning that your salary (yes, you, non-capital owning reader) is viewed as an obstacle to profit. People like Tom Brady are simply criminally underpaid relative to the value they provide to teams like the New England Patriots. No one is watching the Patriots because of Bob Kraft’s ownership skills, and yet he reaps the biggest spoils from Brady’s efforts, while Brady’s salary is determined within a communist framework.
The overall model of the NFL is capitalist, in that 32 billionaires own franchises considered to be private property, and they collect private profits on them. However, the internal model of the league—how the teams distribute revenue and how they are allowed to construct their rosters—is mostly communist. There is no other league that even comes close to sharing all of its TV revenue equally, and the NFL’s salary cap is the only one in sports that is ironclad. The NBA has a cap, but you simply pay a tax if you go over it, the NHL allows for player bonuses to exceed its salary cap, while the capless MLB is the purest form of capitalism you’ll find in American sports.
Which is why Dan Crenshaw’s tweet is so hilariously misguided. He wants to dunk on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s assertion that we should return to the marginal tax rates we experienced for most of the 20th century, and he tries to do it by asking if a league that shares 100% of its TV revenue 100% equally should do what he would call a socialist thing.
Buddy, the NFL is waaaay past socialism. If you’re looking for something closer to AOC’s politics, check out the NHL where the top-ten money making teams contribute TV revenue to a pool, while the bottom-fifteen money making teams are eligible to collect from this pool.
There is a lesson to be learned here: modern-day Americans tell ourselves a very different tale from recorded history. Wildly popular two-term Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted top marginal tax rates as high as 91%, yet AOC’s proposal that every dollar of income over $10 million be taxed at 70% is deemed “radical” by the self-styled Very Serious People of the political world. The secret to the NFL’s parity is policies straight out of the Communist Manifesto, and the Patriots’ dominance over a system specifically designed to level the playing field amongst all 32 teams is the genesis of their greatness (Tom Brady has appeared in more Super Bowls than any of the other 31 franchises have). America is a far more liberal country than we are led to believe, and the communist governance of the NFL is just one example.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.