“What a great idea to have a sports issue and what wonderful articles!” wrote Phyl Newbeck of Jericho, Vermont, of our August 15/22 sports special issue, “Views From Left Field.” Most readers agreed, although a few, like Deek Crowley of Wayne, Maine, were on the “If I wanted to read about sports I would have subscribed to Sports Illustrated” team. We were amicably chided for (a) ignoring track and field, (b) ignoring Curt Flood and Marvin Miller, (c) almost ignoring golf, (d) ditto women, (e) not inviting George Will to do a sports hero vignette and (f) illustrating a vignette on a figure skater with a cartoon of a speed skater. “I’m an old goat Cleveland baseball fan who owns a Larry Doby shirt,” writes Dan Elliott of Shaker Heights, Ohio. He urges us to cover his hero in future sports issues, which he says should come out a few times a year. —The Editors
Your sports issue evoked a memory of Marty Marion, the great St. Louis Cardinals shortstop. On a cold winter day in the late 1940s, Marion and his family moved into our neighborhood in the St. Louis suburbs. When my gang heard the news, we dug out our baseball paraphernalia and, despite light snow on the ground, struck up a game in the street (our usual play area) in front of Marty’s house. Out he came, even taller than he appeared on the field. He bent over to greet each of us. Thereafter, he would take pains that visiting friends from his team did the same: Terry Moore and Harry Walker come to mind.
Periodically, Marty would gather up three or four neighborhood kids, load us into his huge white convertible and deliver us at Sportsmans Park to sit in his personal box behind the batter. After the game, we would gather outside the locker room with scads of other kids eagerly waiting to get a close-up and, they hoped, autographs of their heroes. When Marty appeared, he always gave his autograph. Then he would turn to us and say in a loud voice, “Ready to go home, guys?” “Sure, Marty,” we’d reply. Glory days.
Neil deMause’s “Why Do Mayors Love Sports Stadiums?” was an excellent overview of a fundamentally flawed system: publicly subsidized stadiums and arenas. The root of the problem is that professional sports leagues in this country are self-regulated monopolies. We’ve given them free rein to feed their profit-at-all-costs appetite. Unlike virtually every other US industry, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL have no checks and balances in the form of competition from other leagues or a regulatory oversight body. So franchises in these leagues are free to hold cities hostage by threatening to move unless the host city (read: taxpayers) agrees to build the owners a new sports palace. We desperately need to stop this blackmail, which has made taxpayers pay some $20 billion in subsidies for new stadiums and arenas since 1990.
Community ownership of pro sports franchises is the answer. The best town in pro sports is also the smallest: Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Green Bay Packers are one of the most successful franchises in pro sports—on and off the field. They’re also a publicly owned nonprofit whose bylaws state that the Packers are “a community project, intended to promote community welfare.” What a refreshing approach. Packer fans don’t have to deal with threats of relocation from greedy owners. They are the owners. The team isn’t going anywhere.
Since 1960 the NFL constitution has banned community-owned franchises. The NBA, NHL and MLB have informally done the same thing. Franchise owners don’t want any more Green Bays out there proving that community ownership works. So, to empower the fans, we need federal legislation to overturn pro sports leagues’ ban on community ownership. The legislation would forbid any pro league from prohibiting the community ownership model. If a league did so, it would lose its antitrust privileges. Moreover, the legislation would require owners to give their communities 180 days’ notice of proposed relocation, during which time the community could put together an offer to retain the franchise. The city could buy the franchise at a fair appraised value and either run the franchise, find a local buyer who would agree to keep it in the city or sell it to fans via a stock offering.