The Real Cure for Scumbag Team Owners is for the Public to Own the Teams
Enough is enough, sports fans.
It’s been known for decades that the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers is a racist jerk.
Ditto the owner of that professional football team in our nation’s capital, whose current horrific anti-indigenous team name is a global embarrassment.
But these guys are the tip of the iceberg.
The real question is: why are these teams owned by individuals at all? Why do we allow our precious sports clubs to be the playthings of a bunch of billionaires? Why aren’t the football, baseball, basketball, hockey and other major sports franchises so many of us so passionately love and support not owned by the communities that give them their life? Why is our nation powerless to remove the racist logo from a public stadium just down the street from the White House and Congress?
There’s a model out there that does work. It’s called the Green Bay Packers (of which I’m proud owner of 2 shares). There are plenty of flaws in the set-up. But when snow covers the field, the community comes out to shovel it off. And though the NFL owners have specifically banned any more teams from being public-owned (guess why!), the Packers have done just fine at the highest levels of competition.
It’s time to use the Packer green and gold as a starter model for all franchise ownership.
Some of the billionaires who now own these teams are obviously decent, tolerant, open-minded people. Many are more than that—competent, committed, good at their jobs, even genuinely humble and community-minded.
But there’s a reason Donald Sterling can be possessed of “a plantation mentality” and get away with it all these years. Likewise Robert Bennett Williams, the founder of the NFL team in Washington, whose bigot gene obviously dominates the current owner. It’s because the real issue is not the quality or lack thereof of the current custodians of the front office.
The core problem is this: THESE TEAMS ARE ACTUAL PLANTATIONS. Like so much else under the laws of today’s Gilded Age America, our sports franchises are public assets that we have allowed to be owned by private rich people. That is, to vastly understate the case, WRONG WRONG WRONG.
However nice or otherwise they might be, these team-owners have been gouging out public subsidies for stadiums, tax breaks and much too much else over the decades. How else does a franchise like the Clippers leap in value from a few million when Massa Sterling bought it to nearly billion today? It’s all PUBLIC MONEY!
And it’s time to take these teams back. WE are the rightful owners, not the latest random Robber Baron with court-side thrones where players, coaches, fans and broadcasters can kiss their ring. Not the latest temporarily solvent corporation that sticks its logo in our faces while amazingly talented young men and women play their hearts out.
It took years of hard work for the sports world’s slave contracts to give way to free agency. It was an “impossible” task, but thanks to Curt Flood and a long-term public uproar, it finally got done. Similar things must be done about on-the-field injuries, especially in football.
And now Donald Sterling has underscored the need — once again — for an even broader campaign. Banned for life is not enough!
The Fifth Amendment says the public has the right to take property with “just compensation.” It’s called “eminent domain.” Let’s use it to condemn all these franchises, buy out their “owners,” and have the teams run by the communities in which they reside, and to whom they rightfully belong. Management will be done in partnership with the players’ unions. And the Donald Sterlings and Daniel Snyders and so many other painful anachronisms will be relegated to the trash heap of our sports history.
It’s the only way. And when we’re done, we can finally feel right at home in the public-owned stadiums where we cheer on OUR teams.
Harvey Wasserman roots for the Celtics, Red Sox, Packers, Crew and Blue Jackets, but he is part-owner only of the Packers … so far.
Photo by Joe Bielawa released under a Creative Commons license.