Owners Aren't the Only Ones to Blame

Commentate-Off Submission #3 comes from Doc Crispy who uses the topic of the NFL in Los Angeles to advocate change. Doc would like to start up a weekly column with a name to be determined, and states that a weekly column on Bernie's Insiders, a pony, and world peace are all he wants.

Americans move around a lot, and I mean a lot. We're probably the most mobile group of people in the world. It's what we do; it's about freedom and self-determination, and perhaps most of all, it's about taking advantage our inalienable right to pick-up and move someplace else to get a new start in life. Hardly surprising coming from a nation of immigrants.


So why is it so bad when a football team wants to move for at least the possibility of greener pastures?


Because the fans of those teams invest a lot of themselves into the game. Arguments over beer and pretzels are rarely about players and coaches. If you listen closely to the subtext, they are about good-hearted people defending something they wish to be true about themselves. Perhaps they are stereotypes, but something must be said for the blue-collar grit of Pittsburgh and Cleveland fans being a different hue from the cock-sure razzle-dazzle of their 49er and Cowboy counterparts. Its hardly apocryphal to say that a team, if taken care of, will over time assume the very identity of the city in which it lives. When a team moves it leaves a void where an entire community once gathered. The contradiction is that we have little say over the destinies of our franchises.


This peculiar institution of almost total private ownership over the majority of professional sports teams has given rise to a virtually exclusive American phenomenon. Elsewhere in the world team movement is a concept few understand. Having explained to my British friends why there is a team in Baltimore the response was arched eyebrows repeatedly asking, "but they were the Cleveland Browns, right?"


We wouldn't expect a museum moving to Albany, nor would we accept the orchestra taking a better deal to set up shop in Saginaw. These are our cultural institutions and by extension through our tax dollars, ours in every sense of the word. They are part of what gives any city a unique character. This is not so different for a football team.


The perennial pseudo-crisis of a team moving to LA has again cast fear and loathing over our football loving friends and sometimes foes in San Diego and Minnesota. Why? So one person will get what is supposed to be the second largest television market in the US. Not quite the prize it appears considering previous history and that LA is hardly a modicum of togetherness. Given recent ballot measures that will divide that city into several medium-sized and under-funded hamlets, it baffles the mind to think that any of them would collectively support a team again let alone anything else. None of this matters when we know that the owners need a franchise-less LA. As long as there no team is in LA, any owner can extort what they want from their cities because of the perception that anyone can be profitable in LA.


If profit is the motivator, then let's take it away.


No one really expects a museum or an orchestra to make a profit, they're not supposed to. The value of those institutions is to make life a little more enjoyable and give us something to do when were not working 50+ hours for the guy in the suit. Football is no different; it's an important social event that helps us to experience something larger than ourselves. It makes us better social creatures and makes us give a crap about something other than colour of own lawn. The amount of friendships created just over a football game is staggering; not to mention its place in race relations and the history of this country - football is the tie that binds. So why do we sully this fine institution by letting a chosen few do as they please?


Perhaps here would be the paragraph where I bash the league and the owners, or perhaps I'll go Marxist and blame all those duped capitalists for believing their own hype, but I won't. The fact is, we do it to ourselves.


I'm not advocating full public ownership because in a fast changing market like football, good leadership is needed at all levels. This just doesn't happen in the management-by-committee approach. However, would it be so bad to have 51% public ownership to prevent teams from moving and give public opinion real teeth through voting rights? If we learned anything from Enron and all the other recent accounting scandals, is that the Ivory tower management approach is corrupt by design. What's needed is not more regulation but more transparency.


You might think there is nothing that can be done and this is just how the system works, but the system, whatever that is, wasn't something some guy in the dark glasses came up with after the Second World War. It's something we buy into

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