Nashville’s professional hockey team took a shot and waded into the political arena by endorsing a Democratic mayoral candidate in the city’s upcoming election. Along with team mascot Gnash, Nashville Predators President and CEO Sean Henry encouraged residents to vote for Mayor David Briley in the May 24 special election. The backing amounts to a rare political endorsement from a professional sports team. “I also want to let Smashville know that we’re supporting Mayor David Briley, and we hope that you join us for that as well,” Henry said in a video shared by Briley’s campaign this week. “I’m glad we don’t just stick to sports,” Henry told The Tennessean. “I’m glad that we can leverage the attention that people have for our logo, to take things that we think are important moving forward.”
As The Tennessean reported, the Nashville Predators’ stadium is city owned – and taxpayer funded – and the team is working with the mayor’s office on securing a new stadium lease. Tennessee state law says it is unlawful “to use public buildings or facilities for meetings or preparation of campaign activity in support of any particular candidate, party or measure unless reasonably equal opportunity is provided for presentation of all sides or views, or reasonably equal access to the buildings or facilities is provided all sides.”
But Nashville attorney Daniel Horwitz noted the Predators are a private, for-profit entity and has the right to endorse political candidates. “The fact that the Predators receive substantial corporate welfare in the form of a sweetheart stadium lease from the city does not change that fact,” Horwitz told Fox News. “Leasing Bridgestone Arena from the city also does not convert the Predators into a governmental entity that subjects the team to Tennessee’s ‘Little Hatch Act.’”
“In other words: Although some fans are certain to be put off by the decision, the Predators’ endorsement of acting Mayor Briley was not illegal,” he added.
Dr. John Geer, vice provost of academic and strategic affairs at Vanderbilt University, said the Predators’ endorsement won’t have a big impact on the race, but will give Briley “a little free advertising.”
However, he told Fox News Briley’s “opponents will try to make it a big deal … but such efforts will only help the mayor.”
Ralph Bristol, one of the candidates for mayor in the special election, said the Predators “didn’t even bother to contact me.” He also said he doubted the team had reached out to any of the other candidates running.
The special election was called after Megan Barry resigned following reports she had an affair with the former head of her security detail. Briley was appointed to take her place.