Eugene Weekly : Books : 10.14.10


Decent Sports, Bad Owners
Dave Zirin wants public ownership to go with public financing
by Suzi Steffen

I said my last good-byes (along with a “Fuck you” or two) to my formerly beloved Kansas City Royals about the time I moved to Iowa in 1995. Sure, they’d been losers for so long (and now for so much longer) that it was near impossible to remember the glory days of middle school and the sweet, sweet World Series win. But more than that, it was the new ownership, the conservative feel of the ballpark, the endless co-opting of pitchers for “Real Men Don’t Use Porn” billboards and the weird vibe of no queers welcome at the ballpark that turned me off.

Though the Royals have continued to, frankly, suck, the new owners managed to force the city to renovate the stadium —  financed by the city and county. If you’re flying into Kansas City and you want to rent a car, you’ll be paying a massive stadium fee to help cover the costs, while the owners reap the benefits. Gross.

Or maybe you’re a Portland Beavers fan, and you don’t get why the Beavers are leaving Portland. Maybe you liked that anti-Sam-Adams John Canzano column that acted like baseball was the last sport of the working class and that Portland should have shelled out millions of dollars to build a new stadium. (For which millions of dollars would eventually have come from the pockets of the middle and working classes, by the way.)

How about those Sonics? Oh, that’s right: Two Oklahoma businessmen bought the team, tried to bully Seattle (whose crumbling city infrastructure sounds a constant thrum through the city’s media outlets) into buying a new arena for them or they’d move the team. As you probably know, they did move the team — to Oklahoma.

All of that while seat prices have rocketed and buying a beer, a soda or nachos for each person in your family will set you back a whole lot more than, say, a trip to a National Park. Why do we put up with this bullshit? The zillionaire owners want us to build their stadiums in exchange for a few minimum-wage service jobs, jobs that pay the workers less than enough to afford a ticket to the games they’re working.

Yes, it’s true, I’m influenced by and wholly in agreement with Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation. (Did you know that mag had sports in it? Progressives can be just as passionate as conservatives about women and men running on fields or courts, playing with big or little balls.) Zirin claims he “loves the Mets, Jets and Wizards,” which might give a Midwestern or West Coast sports fan pause, but he knows his stuff and has written often and passionately about how to solve what he sees as the biggest problems in sports.

Now, Zirin’s style is probably not going to win over right-wing fans and conservative Christians who enjoy their “Faith Days” at the ballpark (as Zirin points out, Faith Days aren’t for ALL faiths; not even close); he’s not going to win over those who’d prefer to blame Mayor Adams or the Seattle city government for not sucking up to the owners and screwing the public by providing taxpayer money for stadiums or arenas. But it’s useful for the rest of us. 

His one ray of hope is Green Bay, the beloved football team owned by its city, for which every piece of merchandise sold earns money plowed back into the team, not into some gazillionaire owner’s coffers. He sets out a fans’ bill of rights, most of which seem logical — the death of the blackout rule, so football fans who can’t afford a ticket can still see home games; no $8 Coors Light (seriously: yuck) — and one, the right to withhold tax money for a stadium unless a public advocate gets added to the team’s board, a baby step toward a distant goal.

I’ve lost my love of major-league sports and never had it for most Division I majors. Owners and jerky fans suck the joy from games and replace it with a demand for dollars and blind devotion. But knowing strategy, watching the thrill of a competition, remembering where I was when certain plays took place ­ I love that, and I’d like to regain some feeling of ownership of and acceptance from teams (maybe not the Royals). With Zirin to lead the way, it could happen.

Dave Zirin reads from Bad Sports; How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love and talks about local sports issues at 7 pm Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Lillis 182 on the UO campus.