FIFA indictments are a warning to other sports leagues, including NFL

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After years of being widely regarded as a thoroughly corrupt organization, the international body that runs the sport of soccer has been targeted aggressively by the U.S. government.

“Two generations of soccer officials abused their positions of trust for personal gain,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release, “frequently through an alliance with unscrupulous sports marketing executives who shut out competitors and kept highly lucrative contracts for themselves through the systematic payment of bribes and kickbacks.”

Regardless of how this plays out for the nine FIFA executives who have been indicted and for FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who has not been indicted yet but could be once the nine indicted FIFA executives begin clamoring to cut deals with prosecutors, it’s a warning to every other sports league, including the NFL. If you become big enough and sufficiently controversial and notorious, the feds eventually will start poking around your business. And your business had better be in proper order, or the feds will keep poking around your business until there’s enough evidence to begin to present facts about your business to a grand jury.

Let’s be clear on this. There’s no specific reason to believe that the NFL or anyone connected to it currently is doing anything that would attract a full-blown federal prosecution. But enough issues and problems have arisen in recent months and years to possibly spark general curiosity regarding whether a crime or two may be lurking behind certain aspects of the NFL’s great fortune.

During his recent appearing on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, former federal prosecutor turned NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith pointed out the difference in treatment experienced by players who get in trouble and by owners who get in trouble.

“You have the cases of Mr. Irsay, where somebody unfortunately overdosed to death in his house, you have the case involving the owner in Cleveland where the business that he was connected with was found to be in violation of federal law, and you have the case of the [Wilfs] where a state court judge ruled that the owners of the Minnesota Vikings engaged in fraud,” Smith said. “One one hand you have a Commissioner who was overturned three times” in disciplining Saints players for the bounty scandal, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson, “and on the other hand you have a Commissioner who has looked the other way three times.”

In recent years, Congress has become the political body most commonly mentioned as potentially inclined to not look the other way when an NFL controversy goes mainstream. But the work of Congress typically occurs in public. Privately, prosecutors can scratch the surface and peel the onion and systematically compile the evidence that may or may not ever lead to an affirmative attack on what has become a very large American target.

Again, there’s no specific reason to believe that the NFL or anyone connected to it currently is doing anything that would attract a full-blown federal prosecution. But the FIFA case should serve as a warning to all sports leagues that the smoke of perceived incompetence could result in someone with subpoena power choosing to search for the fire of actual corruption.

77 responses to “FIFA indictments are a warning to other sports leagues, including NFL

  1. Nothing says “watch out, corruption” more than letting cheaters keep their trophies “won” while cheating.

    Gimme a break.

  2. I guess those positions are similar to political positions — the lure is in the unofficial “benefits.”

  3. Caught cheating twice, both which led to Super Bowl victories. The NFL burned the tape that existed that the Patriots recorded of other teams signals and then want to fight and say they are innocent of any wrong doing in deflategate. Yep, I can see some congressmen and women from 31 other jurisdictions who feel that a certain team is cheating and the NFL is letting them get away with it with basically slaps on the wrist, getting the government involved. Could be the NFL gave up the non-profit status to keep the government from holding it over their head. However, the government could make things very uncomfortable for the NFL if a certain team continues to push the cheating envelope and the NFL continues to give the impression it is sweeping it under the rug. The NFL had no choice but to hire Wells and had no choice but to punish the Patriots and Brady or risk government meddling into their affairs.

  4. There for a moment I thought you talking about Halliburton, KBR and Black Water.

  5. And you have the Redskins and Cowboys being punished for doing something with the cap on a year where no cap rules applied. Yet, nobody had pretty much anything to say on the matter. Even the Joneses and Snyders of the world, who normaly dont let anybody step on their toes remained quiet…

    Biggest scandal in the NFL the past decade remained silent.

  6. As the financial events of 2008 showed, nothing is “too big to fail.” With all the money flowing through the NFL offices, they had better make sure there’s no smoke, much less any fire.

  7. The internal strife about disciplinary issues is not a federal concern. It may seem shady but it just isn’t a corruption issue in that regard. There are two areas that might be though. The Super Bowl bidding process and the stadium schemes and LA threats to local governments. Those areas are a bit sketchy.

  8. The NFL is eating itself alive. With the desire to move football abroad, the horrible market locations for half of the teams and the attitude that winning is more important than decency, the NFL will no longer exist in 10 or 15 years.

    It is amazing that no professional sports leagues are learning from the fall of NASCAR. They all pretend that the fans will buy what the leagues are selling no matter what. They don’t even care that fans are outraged. They refuse to listen to the fans. The NFL is now telling the fans what the fans will receive for their money. Best part is, without fans, there is no demand for the sport. Add in billions of dollars in contracts, and it won’t take much of a decline to bankrupt the sport.

  9. FIFA is on the way far end of corrupt, it’s been known for many years now. I highly doubt that any of the four major sports in the U.S. could turn out to be anywhere near as corrupt as FIFA.

    Will there be controversial stuff that happens in the four major leagues? Yes, of course but what FIFA was doing was extreme.

  10. As a long time soccer fan this comes as no surprise.

    The bigger story should be the use of slave labour in building facilities in Qatar (and how many are projected to die while building said facilities… 1/day).

    Or, the use of prison (slave) labour in Russia to build the facilities.

  11. Therein lies the risk of the Wells affair ending up before a federal judge. One never knows what might be revealed in open court. As we learned from “Raiders of the Lost Ark “, opening up the Ark of the Covenant could have serious consequences.

  12. With such upstanding individuals like Roger Goodell this would never happen. (By the way that is sarcasm). I would trade the head of fifa for Roger site unseen.

  13. Allowing a game to be played where one team has decided advantage (deflategate) over another is criminal. Millions of dollars are bet on each game. There should be an investigation.

  14. “And you have the Redskins and Cowboys being punished for doing something with the cap on a year where no cap rules applied. Yet, nobody had pretty much anything to say on the matter. Even the Joneses and Snyders of the world, who normaly dont let anybody step on their toes remained quiet… ”

    That’s a complete lie. Virtually none of it is true.

  15. I trash the NFL a lot, but I would have to say this is a very good article as food for thought. The NFL has access to classified evidence in some cases (like Ray Rice) and hands out additional penalties on top of law enforcement, some harsher than the court system does, as well as penalties when no convictions occur.
    They recently changed their not-for-profit status because certain rules apply to that.
    They have taken a sport and altered it for the sake of entertainment purposes, while at the same time jumped in feet first into the Fantasy Sports industry, which is just a very clean word for Gambling.
    The NFL is a very successful sports league, but with growth comes a lot of risk.

  16. Can you be CHARGED for incompetence?

    Corruption is totally different.

    All that being said, the NFL is doing something right. So how incompetent can they be?

  17. As a lifetime NFL fan, I hope the Feds do drop the hammer on the league from the top down. I want professional football back. What we all have been given is not professional and the “football” of it all is dying fast.

  18. Remember that time the NFL tried to put together a sting operation against the Patriots, only whoops all the game balls had been sold on the black market by a league official even as other officials in the same crew were swearing up and down that they totally measured psi levels to three decimal places? Did any of our intrepid reporters ever even talk to that guy, or are we just waiting for the Feds and IRS to do it?

  19. I’m not a fan of how greedy the owners are, and for the most part anything associated with the NFL, but lets face it, the rules are different for owners and employees not matter what the venture.

  20. mrsryansfamoustoejam says:
    May 27, 2015 10:19 AM
    I hope this means soccer is dead forever.


    I hope soccer is dead too because MLS is absolutely a dreadful but I pray to based god that futbol stays forever. Nothing like watching CR7 and Messi play, it’s truly a blessing to be able to watch the geniuses play.

  21. It’s not corruption when Roger Goodell requires a whole floor in a hotel during the Super Bowl, paid for by the tax payers in the “winning” city. Oh no, there is nothing to see there…

  22. “If a doofus like Roger getting paid $40 million a year to do a horrible job isn’t corrupt, I don’t know what is.”

    If he was truly doing a horrible job, he wouldn’t be commissioner. The league has awesome growth, the number one sport in the USA, and insane revenue. Rog’s compensation is fine and not an issue. I know it is cool to hate the boss and all, but his pay isn’t an issue. There are CEO’s who make far more for enterprises less successful than the NFL. Stop being jealous.

  23. “That’s a complete lie. Virtually none of it is true.”

    Everything he said is true. There weren’t any cap rules at the time. Seeing that coming, what the NFL did was tell the teams “Hey, even though there won’t really be cap rules in place you all better pretend there are or we’ll dock you later.” And that is exactly what happened.

    Can’t say I feel sorry for either team since the rest of the league was able to avoid penalties but in this ultra-technical society it is pretty remarkable that two billionaires let themselves get penalized for doing what technically was totally allowable at the time.

  24. So the NFL should be worried but “Again, there’s no specific reason to believe that the NFL or anyone connected to it currently is doing anything that would attract a full-blown federal prosecution”


  25. @cross300 Goodell is a saint compared to Blatter and the NFL is far more trustworthy than FIFA. The NFL does some things wrong but a lot of things right. FIFA does most things wrong.

    Yeah, not going to happen. While it is not as popular here, soccer is the most popular sport in the world. This is in spite of FIFA being considered the most corrupt governing body in sports. 2 of the top 4 highest paid athletes are soccer players and 6 out of 20. Football has 2 in the top 20 along with boxing and golf, 4 for basketball and 3 for tennis.

  26. “Hey, even though there won’t really be cap rules in place you all better pretend there are or we’ll dock you later.”

    But, the NFL also approved each new contract for both teams.

  27. Two different animals. As much as I hate most of the billonaire NFL owners or Goodell, none of them is nearly as corrupt as the FIFA, and the entire world of soccer. At least owners are owners who invested their own money to acquire teams, in the case of the FIFA and most of the other soccer federations, the presidents are elected and become millonaires through corrupted systems that have prevailed for decades, and everybody was turning a blind eye.

  28. aimpai says:
    And you have the Redskins and Cowboys being punished for doing something with the cap on a year where no cap rules applied. Yet, nobody had pretty much anything to say on the matter. Even the Joneses and Snyders of the world, who normaly dont let anybody step on their toes remained quiet…

    Biggest scandal in the NFL the past decade remained silent.

    I think the all the NFL owners made a deal with each other that they were supposed to chill with the cap in the uncap year & 2 of the owners went behind 30 others back. The deal the Owners made with themselves might not legal for the NFLPA because it seemed to be an agreement not put in contract, but idk. But I dont think it’s much a scandal if 30 fellow owners don’t agree with their behind the back moves..

  29. “Everything he said is true. There weren’t any cap rules at the time. ”

    The NFL is a business. They … the owners … made a business decision to behave as if there was a cap even though it was not formally agreed upon between them and the players union. Businesses can do as they please and this is what they decided to do. So yes, it was a rule.

    Two teams tried to get around it. They were stopped, but all that happened was the contract money they paid out in excess of the implied cap had to be applied to the next 2 years.

    That’s NOT a penalty since it’s what would have happened had they abided by the cap rules. They simply were forced to behave like all the other teams.

    So … a business decision (aka rule) was enforced evenly and fairly. That’s all that happened.

  30. Hey Goodell maybe you should leave the country while you still can. You might be next for shaking down teams with over zealous fines and god no what else goes on in your ivory tower. You have the right to remain silent….

  31. the “feds” should focus on our national debt, record deficits, uncontrolled appetite for spending and jobs.

  32. FIFA ought to be brought before the ICC for slave labor in Qatar living in squalid conditions working in 100 degree heat every day, like the guy said above 1 dies every day…and now the ones from Nepal can’t leave to go home to bury their dead after the avalanches…any football player who thinks that because they aren’t paid enough they are slaves should pray to the Almighty they don’t have to die in squalor to satisy some stinkin’ international sports federation!

  33. Kraft, Goodell, along with about 10 other refs are deleting test messages and destroying all other evidence as we speak.

  34. Feds need to look no further than the Wells report to discover the NFL fixes the betting outcomes of certain games.

    Why in the world would refs inflate the footballs to almost 16 psi in the Jets v Patriots game in Oct. 2014. Gee the Patriots were favored by 9.5 and only won by 2, and oh by the way the ref of that game was Bill Leavy who recently “retired”.

    The Packers v Seahawks hail mary game with replacement refs was fixed for the betting outcome. The BFL fixes the betting results through the refs.

    Far-fetched? See Tim Donaghey of the NBA.

    NFL Super Bowl bidding process screams corruption, bribes and money laundering

  35. Hard to imagine this happening in the NFL. When you pay Goodell $40 + million a year it makes it difficult to bribe him.

  36. ballin99999 says:
    May 27, 2015 9:55 AM
    If a doofus like Roger getting paid $40 million a year to do a horrible job isn’t corrupt, I don’t know what is.


    Roger is doing an excellent job revenues will be near 12 Billion this year up from 9 Billion just two years ago. Billions more in revenue is what the owners are looking for in terms of success and excellence.

  37. Most of these posts miss the most critical threat to the NFL – it’s concussions, and the related litigation.

  38. The Pats keep getting caught cheating and the NFL is doing nothing about it … if that’s not corruption … what is?

  39. It will never happen. 75% of the leagues owners, one extremely overpaid commissioner and many top executives and a few officials would be indicted.

  40. Please, please, please,
    Go after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell!

    R O G E R
    G O O D E L L!

    May Christmas come early!

  41. They should look into the enormous efforts to bring down the Patriots and prop up others. It is beginning to look like the WWE, where they create controversy and take down the” bad guys” — the Office full of ex Jet employees.. based in New York and supported by the NFL Network and ESPN(Who created the whole deflategate mess and still refuse to address it….HELLO CHRIS MORTENSON WHERE ARE YOU?)

  42. —I would trust a group of homeless winos over the US congress—

    What’s the difference?

  43. DeSmith is right in exposing the hypocritical double standard of the NFL. Players are dealt with harshly by the NFL’s High Moral Authority, Roger Goodell, while owners (e.g., Irsay, Haslam, Wilfs, etc.) are given mere slaps on the wrist.

  44. As a Canadian, I say I’m proud of the way the U.S. Federal Government has taken FIFA to task for its well known and ongoing corruption.

    White collar crime simply doesn’t get punished nearly to the same extent up North (I was elated when you finally put Conrad Black behind bars .. something we would/could never do.)

  45. floratiotime:

    Collusion is an agreement between two or more parties, sometimes illegal and therefore secretive, to limit open competition by deceiving, misleading, or defrauding others of their legal rights, or to obtain an objective forbidden by law typically by defrauding or gaining an unfair market advantage. It is an agreement among firms or individuals to divide a market, set prices, limit production or limit opportunities. It can involve “wage fixing, kickbacks, or misrepresenting the independence of the relationship between the colluding parties”. In legal terms, all acts effected by collusion are considered void.

  46. “Collusion is an agreement between two or more parties”

    Fan goggles. The NFL is a single entity with 32 franchises. This is completely obvious. And like any business they can make decisions that are binding.

  47. Hate Goggles

    Collusion is largely illegal in the United States, Canada and most of the EU due to competition/antitrust law, but implicit collusion in the form of price leadership and tacit understandings still takes place. Several examples of collusion in the United States include:

    Market division and price-fixing among manufacturers of heavy electrical equipment in the 1960s, including General Electric.
    An attempt by Major League Baseball owners to restrict players’ salaries in the mid-1980s.
    The sharing of potential contract terms by NBA free agents in an effort to help a targeted franchise circumvent the salary cap
    Price fixing within food manufacturers providing cafeteria food to schools and the military in 1993.
    Market division and output determination of livestock feed additive, called lysine, by companies in the US, Japan and South Korea in 1996, Archer Daniels Midland being the most notable of these.[5]
    Chip dumping in poker or any other high stake card game.

    Professional Sports leagues can commit collusion.

  48. Where the NFL should be investigated is one they start bribing politicians to force taxpayers to pay for their lavish work palaces and also their monopoly status. The decision on Super Bowls can also be investigated for bribery.

  49. Washington and Cowboys fans keep going on about their managements attempt to pay off bad contracts without having to abide by the salary cap. It’s become a religion with them, and no appeal to logic and facts will change their opinion.

  50. Why do the players insist on being treated equally with the owners? They are OWNERS. They are employees. Everyone in every work place on earth knows there are different rules for bigwigs and the employees. It has always been this way. It will always be this way. Why are NFL players/owners any different?

  51. Explain how they are “having to abide by the salary cap” in an uncapped year? You have no logic or facts on your side. You haven’t pointed to any yet. All you have is the adolescent “your wrong and I’m right” argument and collusion.

  52. The NFL is already that corrupt, with the picking winners and losers that goes on now.

    Can you imagine how much back door money is being tossed around for these Super Bowl locations?

  53. I would love the FBI investigate the corruption that is the NFL. Even revoke the Anti-Trust Exemption until they fire Goodell…

  54. Thought Congress playing a part in lifting black out rules would get a mention. Nice article just the same.

  55. With things included in the CBA that makes one scratch our heads. I wonder if there are side things put in to gain favor like we have with our Government.

  56. Fact
    If the NFL had prior knowledge that the Patriot’s were doctoring the footballs, then, they should have addressed the issue prior to starting the game.
    If this had even been a close game, the NFL would have been subject to so many lawsuits from people who had bet on the game and lost.
    The NFL had violated a cardinal rule about keeping their game fair and above board

  57. Uh oh, lot of NFL owners booking private jets out of the country before the Feds show up at their door!

    I do wonder what the city of Chicago paid the NFL under the table to get the draft. Must have been juicy.

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