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Thune Puts Leagues on Notice Ahead of Likely Commerce Chairmanship

Former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre arrives to testify before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Professional sports leagues shouldn't expect any less Senate oversight when Republicans take control next year.  

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the presumed next chairman of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee had pointed words Tuesday for professional sports league commissioners who decided to send lieutenants to a Tuesday hearing on domestic violence prompted by recent incidents involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and other athletes.  

"While I thank the witnesses for being here today, it is disappointing that the league commissioners are not here to speak for their sports," Thune said. "It is also unfortunate that, with the notable exception of the NBA players association, the heads of the other players associations are not here today."  

"These are issues that are not – and should not be – partisan. And it may very well be appropriate for the committee to revisit this topic in the next Congress to assess the progress of the leagues and the players associations in dealing with domestic violence," he said in his opening statement.  

Thune highlighted past examples of where congressional hearings have prompted professional sports to act, most notably the crackdown on the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. The South Dakota Republican also made clear his concerns were not specific to the National Football League.  

"I am troubled by the recent remarks of the commissioner of baseball that seemed to downplay the extent of the problem within his sport. Rather than minimizing the issue, I believe the correct approach is for the leagues to engage in meaningful talks with their players unions and other stakeholders to ensure player conduct policies are sufficient when such acts of violence are carried out. That may mean renegotiating certain contract provisions and strengthening penalties where appropriate," Thune said. "Questions of due process, such as determining if, when, and how a player should be disciplined, are also an important part of this conversation."  

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Topics: policy icnw