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Since it happens in other major sports leagues, fans of the National Football League may wonder whether or not an NFL player could own a team in the league.
No, NFL players cannot own a team because the league’s constitution forbids owners from playing on the field.
So, an NFL player having interest in becoming an owner or co-owner would first have to retire.
The NFL has been around for a century and its constitution governs operations and activity by owners of the league’s teams.
Such regulations are there for several reasons, including to deter cheating, avoid troubles stemming from financial situations, and just to protect and preserve the overall image of the league.
It’s that last part, protecting the NFL “brand,” that is most often cited when it comes to the player-ownership clause.
To the point: the NFL does not want the spectacle of some non-football player suiting up in a team uniform, and certainly is against non-athletes competing in games.
Allowing owners to play in games poses injury risk to the owner, and legal liability risks for the team and league.
Probably more importantly, such a move could be considered a stunt by fans and the public, which could tarnish the league’s image as a no-nonsense major team sport filled with the very best athletes that could be found.
Someone buying his time in an NFL game would not sit well with fans.
Importance of Game Attendance for Football
Professional sports teams depend on revenue to pay the best performers (players) and keep the entire operation running.
Attendance at games is a huge revenue-generator. All those fans in stadiums pay for a ticket for a seat, and then also purchase items from concession stands.
That’s the direct revenue from game attendance. In modern times there are other important reasons for NFL teams to want to keep stadiums full:
- Maintain the perception that this is a very popular team. It never looks good to have seats empty at games.
- Impress sponsors to boost bargaining power when negotiating sponsorship deals.
- Ditto for advertising: broadcast television rights are purchased by TV stations and are a tremendous revenue source for pro sports teams today.
How do stadiums get filled? Winning, and lots of it.
But what if a team is poor and cannot afford the best players? Or, if the team’s players just perform poorly?
Then teams can turn to special events, giveaways, and publicity stunts. For the latter, baseball paved the way ~ and showed what gimmicks should be avoided.
Owning a professional sports team involves big money, and wherever a lot of dough is involved, there is greater potential for shenanigans. This remains true today for pro sports owners.
Baseball During World War II and the period immediately after suffered a letdown in fan attendance, as the game and nation slowly emerged from the war to end all wars. To help fill the seats, owners staged publicity stunts to draw attention to the games and hopefully boost attendance.
The king of this was Bill Veeck, then owner of the St. Louis Browns. During World War II, Veeck let a 1-armed outfielder play for the Browns; he also sent a little person (3-foot 7-inches tall) to the plate, all to amuse fans. (The batter walked on 4 pitches, then was removed for a pinch-runner).
There was much more, but this article is about football. Officials for the MLB were concerned that such on-field antics made a mockery of the game, so it began to make rules, including banning little people like Eddie Gaedel from batting.
This is relevant to the NFL because it’s a significant reason NFL players cannot be owners of teams in their league. The NFL banned owners from playing NFL games, which could be perceived by the public as an absurd representation of the game.
Besides maintaining respect for the game, NFL officials back then envisioned the potential for owners to meddle enough in games to affect the outcome. Because gambling was so prevalent in the first half of the 20th century, they took actions to protect the league.
They considered, if an owner suited up and entered a game:
- Would he pressure the head coach to make certain decisions, including his playing time?
- Would the owners’ presence on the sideline in team uniform intimidate the head coach? Secretly lose a game on purpose?
- Would it be a serious distraction to game play?
- Would the owner force the head coach to make decisions that were known to hurt the team’s ability to win?
This last item, the potential for owners to lose games on purpose, played a big part in creation of the rules for NFL owners and players.
Former players of teams after their retirement from the game have become part–owners of teams in many of the major team sports. The question is, has any active player become an owner?
The answer is yes, and some of them suited up and played.
- Michael Jordan became a minority owner of the Washington Wizards in the National Basketball Association, and in 2000 left retirement to play for the Wizards.
- National Hockey League superstar Mario Lemieux has been a part-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins since 1999. He played for them from 1984 through 2005.
- In baseball in the early decades of the 1900s, pitcher Clark Griffith owned the Washington Senators that he pitched for; in the same era, catcher Connie Mack owned the Philadelphia Athletics, and Charlie Comiskey owned the White Sox ~ all while the owners suited up.