Fact Check: The NFL Is NOT Tax-Exempt

Fact Check

  • by: Victoria Eavis
Fact Check: The NFL Is NOT Tax-Exempt Not Tax Exempt

Is the National Football League (NFL) tax-exempt? No, that's not true: A search of the IRS database for nonprofits shows the NFL is not included in that listing. The league was tax-exempt until 2015 when it voluntarily relinquished its 501(c)(6) nonprofit status, according to a report from TIME magazine published at the time. The tax exemptions only applied to the league itself, not the individual teams.

The claim originated from a Facebook meme (archived here) published on September 10, 2020. The meme read:

Now that the NFL is involved in Political Movements, isn't it time to revoke their tax exempt status ??"

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Sep 15 14:02:06 2020 UTC)

Even after the NFL relinquished its tax-exempt status in 2015, members of Congress still introduced bills that would strip the NFL -- and other sports leagues that similarly no longer claim tax exemptions -- of their nonprofit tax status. These bills were never voted on. A 2017 Vice article explained this move:

With the NFL, NBA, and MLB no longer claiming tax exemptions ... [the] bill likely will be more symbolic than financial. The leagues currently enjoying tax exemptions, though, should heed this latest shot across the bow from Congress."

Week One of the 2020 NFL season came to a close on Monday, September 14, and it was filled with montages on the Black Lives Matter movement and fields donned with anti-racism slogans. Many players took a knee during the national anthem and some stayed in the locker rooms, a peaceful protest now supported by the league. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, posted an unprecedented response video a few weeks ago, saying:

We the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.

Claims about the NFL's tax-exempt status have been circulating for a number of years. Snopes wrote a fact-check on a similar claim back in 2014.

Lead Stories has written previously about the NFL and the Black Lives Matter movement.

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  Victoria Eavis

Victoria Eavis is a fact checker at Lead Stories. She recently graduated from Duke University with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology. In her last few months at Duke, she was a reporter for a student news site, The 9th Street Journal, that covers the city of Durham, North Carolina. 

Read more about or contact Victoria Eavis

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