Typically, sports commissioners try to avoid testifying under oath. Like the chief executives that they are, they don’t like to submit to authority.
It’s not that they’re rebels; instead, they’re suit-wearing kings of one realm who don’t want to answer to the black-robed kings of another realm.
But in the combined effort of the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB to block sports betting in New Jersey, all four commissioners have given sworn depositions, answering under oath a stream of questions posed by lawyers who represent the state.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was grilled on a topic that rarely comes up when considering the league’s staunch opposition to gambling. The NFL plays games in two countries that embrace it: Canada and England.
”Well, we’re playing in their country, we’re coming to them,” Goodell said, via the Associated Press. ”And we’re only there for a short period of time; we’re there for two or three days. It’s not what we choose, it’s not what we believe is in the best interests of sports, but we don’t dictate the rules or the laws.”
Goodell’s “short period” argument would seemingly rule out placing a franchise in Canada or London, something at which the league has been hinting in recent years.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was more pointed, as he tends to be. “The one thing I’m certain of is New Jersey has no idea what it’s doing and doesn’t care because all it’s interested in is making a buck or two, and they don’t care that it’s at our potential loss,” Stern said. It’s unclear what the NBA’s potential loss is, if gambling becomes legal in a state that the NBA abandoned with the move of the Nets to Brooklyn.
Stern also suggested that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is violating his sworn obligations, pointing out that the basketball czar’s position is “wholly apart from the fact that a governor, who’s a former U.S. Attorney, has chosen to attack a federal law which causes me pause for completely different reasons since I’ve at times sworn to similar oaths about upholding the law of the United States.”
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig opted to moralize generally, saying that he’s “appalled” by New Jersey’s cash grab. ”I know states need money. I really mean that,” Selig said. ”I understand all the problems. Federal government needs money, going over a cliff, cities need money. Chris Christie needs money. But gambling is so . . . the threat of gambling and to create more threat is to me — I’m stunned. I know that people need sources of revenue, but you can’t — this is corruption in my opinion.”
New Jersey’s primary argument is that a 1992 federal law that restricts the growth of sports gambling and allows some states to maintain sports gambling programs violates the Constitution, and unfairly supersedes the authority of state law. If that’s the case, it’s unclear why testimony from the various Commissioners was necessary; their own views on gambling are irrelevant to New Jersey’s effort to circumvent federal law.
Though we have yet to obtain a response from the NFL on this point, it’s entirely possible that the sports leagues argued that their individual leaders need not answer questions under oath. If that effort was made, it obviously wasn’t successful.