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How to be an NFL Fan and Still Respect Yourself in the Morning

On Sunday night, my last hopes were dashed. Neither of my two football teams made the playoffs. If I drank eggnog, I’d be crying in it. Being an NFL fan has become an exercise in futility, hypocrisy and denial.

It’s hard to imagine life without football. I went to junior high near Birmingham, where people would roll down their car windows at a stoplight and ask you, “Alabama or Auburn?” In that part of the state, Alabama was the only correct answer, and Bear Bryant walked on water. I went to high school in Texas. Our football team was a perennial contender for the state championship. Just like in Friday Night Lights, our coach had to contend with an entire town’s worth of Monday morning quarterbacks. My high school years also happened to coincide with the Dallas Cowboys’ Roger Staubach era. Most of the country either loved or hated Roger and Tony and Butch and Drew and Hollywood and Too Tall. Tom Landry was God and for football fans like me, Texas was heaven.

And then, in 1989, along came Jones . . . shit talkin’ Jerry Jones.  He bought the Cowboys for $150 million, kicked our beloved Coach Landry to the curb, and exposed the NFL for the billionaire boys club it has always been. Alright, alright, to be precise, just 18 of the 32 teams are owned by billionaires. The average player salary is a paltry $1.1 million; minimum wage for players (not including bonuses) was $325,000 in 2010. The average NFL player’s career is three years and their salaries are not guaranteed. Once they’re out of the spotlight, many of these young men end up in physical and/or financial ruin, divorced, or even dead. Linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide at the age of 43, is just one recent example of the worst consequences of this violent game. Multiple concussions like those Seau sustained can lead to dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, among other ailments.

So it ain’t all fur coats and fancy cars . . . unless you’re an NFL owner. Owners are kinda like banksters. The rules don’t apply to them. And they don’t have to spend any of their money because we kindly allow them to spend ours instead.

Let’s start with my two favorite teams:

Exhibit A: The Dallas Cowboys.  I’ve stuck with the Cowboys through thick and thin. It hasn’t been easy here in Northern California among all the 49ers fans. They play “the catch” on TV here every five minutes, for no apparent reason other than to rub my nose in it (oh, hell no, I don’t have a link). When we lived in Oakland, mr. hfc and I were forced to watch Cowboys games at Ricky’s Sports Bar with other infidels in a dark room hidden in the back of the building; it was kind of like attending a communist meeting in the church basement. And what have I gotten for more than 30 years of devotion? Tony Fucking Romo.

Tony on the sidelines

Flickr photo by Roscoe Ellis.

This year, the Cowboys were still in the running to be NFC East champs, despite having an 8-7 record. But we diehard fans knew it wouldn’t be long before Romo started throwing the game away. He didn’t let us down. Three interceptions later, the Redskins are in the playoffs and Dallas goes home a loser, again. So much for a storied rivalry that goes all the way back to when the Cowboys were just a twinkle in owner Clint Murchison’s eye. Redskins owner George Marshall opposed Murchison’s expansion plans because Marshall wanted to keep his monopoly on teams in the South. So Murchison bought the rights to the Redskins’ fight song, Hail to the Redskins, and held it hostage until Marshall relented and supported an expansion team in Texas. When the NFC East Championship was on the line back in the glory days of the Cardiac Cowboys, Roger Staubach engineered a fourth quarter comeback to win the game 35-34. And Harvey Martin of the Cowboys Doomsday Defense returned a funeral wreath to its rightful owners in the Redskins locker room after the game, for good measure.

But the 2012 version of the Cowboys really is the ideal America’s Team: owned by an old white egomaniac who suffers no consequences when they’re 8-8 (other than perhaps a loss of face); a mediocre team at best; yet still the NFL’s most valuable franchise, valued at $2.1 billion. Too big to fail, even though they haven’t been to a Super Bowl in 16 years. And it’s all because of Jerry Jones. If you’re scouting for capitalist pigs, why he’s a first-round draft pick. For instance: the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement excludes the Cowboys’ wholesale merchandise revenues, estimated at $80 million last year; Jerry gets to just hang on to that. He’s sick of being just a common billionaire; he’d much rather be a gazillionaire! Apparently the taxpayers and fans want to help him reach his goal. When Jerry needed money to build his $1.15 billion stadium in Arlington (a suburb of Dallas), Arlington voters approved the increase of the city’s sales tax by 0.5 percent, the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent, and car rental tax by 5 percent. And the NFL gave Jerry a $150 million loan.

But it’s all good, because Six Flags Over Jerry is hella impressive. You better have hella scratch if you want to go to see a Cowboys game there; the Fan Cost Index is the NFL’s highest at nearly $635. Parking alone costs $75, and there’s no public transportation to the stadium.

Y’all, don’t it seem like ol’ Jer could afford to hire hisself a GM and maybe even a Super Bowl QB?

"Commitment to Excellence"

Flickr photo by Jack Nealy.

Exhibit B: The Oakland Raiders.

My homies won four games this season! Al Davis’ eternal flame continues to sputter in the autumn winter wind. Although Raider Nation isn’t quite ready to lay down the shields and the D batteries just yet, we do wish that our team could have at least made a commitment to suck the most. But noooooo. The 4-12 Raiders will have to wait on the sidelines while a couple of 2-14 teams snatch up the next RG3 in the draft. I guess it’s unreasonable to expect excellence for a mere $197.7 million dollars. That’s the amount loaned to the Coliseum Authority by Oakland and Alameda County 17 years ago when the team returned to Oakland from Los Angeles. Oakland taxpayers continue to pay $4 million per year to Goldman Sachs as part of an interest rate swap the city entered into in 1998 to fund stadium improvements; getting out of that sweet deal would cost Oakland $16 million. “We have a good playbook of what not to do,” said Oakland City Councilperson Rebecca Kaplan. Whew, that’s a relief!

Faced with a $32 million budget deficit this past year, Oakland laid off cops and closed schools but didn’t touch the $17 million it pays to stage 10 games per season for the Raiders and to host the Oakland A’s (who at least have the decency to win). Both teams are threatening to move to other cities unless Oakland replaces the stadium. Mayor Jean Quan has put forth grandiose plans for a new “Coliseum City” in what is now one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Oakland; a 15-year-old girl was killed there in the city’s 131st homicide (and hopefully its last) of 2012.

Exhibit C: The other 30 29 teams. Taxpayers have subsidized NFL teams to the tune of nearly $19 billion since 1992, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, including about 87 percent of the cost of NFL stadiums. Even stadiums owned by private companies receive millions in subsidies. Silicon Valley has acquired the San Francisco 49ers Santa Clara Start-Ups in a semi-hostile takeover. (I don’t think sports teams who move should be allowed to keep a nickname that is so closely associated with the city of origin; Utah Jazz, I’m looking at you.)

In June 2010, voters approved City of Santa Clara ballot Measure J, which called for leasing city property to the 49ers for a football stadium. In December 2011, the Santa Clara City Council voted for an agreement that calls for the city’s Stadium Authority to borrow $850,000,000 from Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and U.S. Bank. The remainder of construction costs will be covered by funding from the NFL, a hotel tax and city redevelopment funds.

The City of Jacksonville, FL, fired police officers and cut services at the same time it was reducing rent and deferring rent payments for the Jaguars (who are one of those 2-14 teams this year). The Minnesota Vikings have won approval from the legislature for a nearly billion-dollar stadium, more than half of which will be built with public funds.

Such scenarios in which the taxpayers foot the bill for billionaire NFL owners are the rule. But there is one very notable exception:

Green Bay - January 2008

Flickr photo by Aasen Ryan Family


Exhibit D: The Green Bay Socialists Packers. The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States.

Based on the original “Articles of Incorporation for the (then) Green Bay Football Corporation” put into place in 1923, if the Packers franchise were to have been sold, after the payment of all expenses, any remaining money would go to the Sullivan Post of the American Legion in order to build “a proper soldier’s memorial.” This stipulation was enacted to ensure the club remained in Green Bay and that there could never be any financial enhancement for the shareholders. At the November 1997 annual meeting, shareholders voted to change the beneficiary from the Sullivan-Wallen Post to the Green Bay Packers Foundation, which makes donations to many charities and institutions throughout Wisconsin.

Money to support the team is generated via stock sales. In 2011, there were 112,015 people, representing 4,750,934 shares, who could lay claim to ownership interest in the Packers. (Wikipedia indicates that a more recent sale happened last year in which stocks were sold at $250 per share, so those numbers probably changed somewhat.) No shareholder may own over 200 shares, so no individual can assume control of the club. A board of directors is elected by the stockholders to run the corporation. Shareholders have voting rights, but shares cannot appreciate in value and no dividends are ever paid. Stock ownership does not include season ticket privileges.

But not to worry; the NFL will never again be undermined by a bunch of commie pinkos. Nevermind that the Packers are one of the league’s most consistently winning teams. Capitalism has been codified for the future:

Green Bay is the only team with this form of ownership structure in the NFL; such ownership is in direct violation of current league rules, which stipulate a limit of 32 owners of one team and one of those owners having a minimum 30% stake. However, the Packers corporation was grandfathered when the NFL’s current ownership policy was established in the 1980s, and are thus exempt. The Packers are also the only American major-league sports franchise to release its financial balance sheet every year.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Green Bay anyway—and who didn’t love Brett Fa-ver-ay before he became a creepy old sexting douchebag? Now it’s Aaron Rodgers’ turn and he’s doing a pretty dang good job; some people think he is the NFL’s best QB. Also, he’s cute. And he’s from Chico, CA, where I live. So I’ve found a way to live with myself and still watch pro football. I’ll just have to become a full fledged cheesehead.

Go Packers!

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