Me Out to the Cleaners
Deals and Phony Capitalism
in his first public comments on the proposal, Pawlenty said
the absence of a referendum in the plan ‘is not a deal breaker’
Star-Tribune, April 26, on Governor Tim Pawlenty’s
willingness to approve a new sales tax to pay for a baseball
stadium without putting the matter to a statewide referendum.
that’s big of you, Tim.
nothing proves a politician’s fitness for office better than
his ability to convince the public to fund a new sports stadium.
You can doubt an elected official all you like, but any mayor
or a governor who can convince a majority of the electorate
to hand over a quarter of a billion dollars to a bunch of
gazillionaires ought to be given a goddamn medal.
if he can pull off that sales job like a Tim Pawlenty or a
Michael Bloomberg, with a straight face and a halo over his
head, then he should be seriously considered as a candidate
in this world there are little white lies, there are cynical
public come-ons, and there is rank, fiendish bullshit; and
then there is taking $300 or $600 million away from
teachers and firefighters and police and handing it over to
the heir of the Johnson and Johnson fortune, and asking for
nothing but a job flipping burgers in return. Selling that
is a tall rhetorical order, and anyone who can pull it off
ought not only to be re-elected until the end of time, but
made lifetime Tsar of the planet earth.
is most remarkable about the publicly-financed stadium craze,
expressed most recently in the situations involving the Twins
in Minneapolis and the Jets in New York, is how effortlessly
the public has swallowed the obscenely corrupted admixture
of capitalism and socialism that is the state’s relationship
to professional sports.
has been down this road before, but now there’s a common council
proposal to build a new stadium for the Bills downtown, apparently
not even the team’s idea.
public can generally be excused for not protesting the grotesque
state capitalism of the arms industry, the absurd parody of
free enterprise that results from the activities of such organizations
as the Ex-Im Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation,
the welfare state of currency bailouts, and the risk-free
money-lending of the World Bank and the I.M.F.
there is no excuse for anyone anywhere for not protesting
the preposterous thieving communism of state-aided sports
stadium deals. Take the Jets deal. Now, when the federal government
buys a fleet of F-117 fighter planes, the average Joe does
not know, automatically and ahead of time, exactly how much
money will ultimately be wasted on $4,000 wrenches and $750
washers and the like before the deal is completed.
in the case of the Jets, New Yorkers know exactly what it
is they’re subsidizing. If Woody Johnson is going to be short
$600 million when he goes to build his new stadium, it just
might be because he’s paying Chad Pennington roughly $573,000
per game to play his ineffectual, happy-footed, tissue-armed
brand of quarterback for the home team. Pennington makes about
$9.172 million a year to play for the Jets. Assuming he takes
about sixty snaps a game, that works out to about ten thousand
dollars every time he sticks his hand in Kevin Mawae’s ass.
translates to a public school teacher’s salary about once
every disappointing set of downs — and this only in the extremely
unlikely event that Pennington manages to play a whole season
without tearing his labrum throwing a wobbly incompletion
into the wind in Orchard Park. If you figure in the inevitable
stint on the DL he takes every year to ensure the Patriots
the division, we’re talking about a public school teacher
about once every time Chad touches the ball.
we all know that a deal like Pennington’s is the market rate
for starting quarterbacks in the NFL. But can you imagine
what people would say if Mayor Bloomberg decided to allocate
public funds toward the construction of a middle school that
was spending ten thousand dollars per copy of Heather Has
Two Mommies? The mayor would be hung by his balls on New
York One. Every right-wing radio jock in the country would
pound His Eminence into oatmeal from sunup till sundown.
because it’s football, everyone just shrugs and says, “Well,
shit, how else are we going to pay for those luxury
boxes on the 50-yard line?” A finer example of peasant-thinking
could not possibly be imagined; a population of half-broke
morons tightening their belts to pay for a fountain full of
bronze dolphins that will sit in front of somebody’s mansion.
argument that all of this can be justified by the economic
benefit of a new stadium would make sense, if the state actually
drove a bargain with its investment. While any public subsidy
of the insane salary scale of the NFL or pro baseball is already
obscene on its face, there’s no denying that even with the
crazy salaries, pro sports is a monstrously successful engine
for profit. The usual counter-argument to the stadium deal
is that investing in schools makes more economic sense than
investing in a few dozen concessions jobs and parking contracts.
But investing in schools probably does not make more
economic sense than actually investing in a pro sports franchise.
that is not what cities are doing. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg
wants to give $600 million to Woody Johnson to help him build
a stadium. For that same money, the city of New York could
buy the New York Knicks for $500 million or so, fire the idiot
Isaiah Thomas, replace him with Daniel Doctoroff or anyone
else with an IQ over ten, earmark the remaining $100 million
to sign LeBron James a few years from now, and then spend
the next decade after that quietly collecting the $150 million
in annual revenues that the Knicks rake in now, even sucking
as badly as they currently do.
would be a shrewd business move and a legitimate public
service. Instead of the sad layout of concessions jobs and
the negligible tax benefit that is the ostensible “return”
on a stadium investment, the state would own outright one
of the most profitable businesses in sports — the Knicks —
and its revenues would be used not to subsidize the highly
irritating public eccentricity of the Dolan family, but to
the fund of the essential services of the city of New York.
Moreover, it is assumed that even the most inefficient government
management would put a halt to the serial accumulation of
6’7” power forwards with max contracts who can’t defend in
the post. It would make sense both financially and in the
realm of civic pride — “both on and off the court,” to use
any rational environment, no one makes a $600 million investment
without becoming a partner in something. But in the
American mindset, it is somehow immoral or politically unorthodox
for a municipality to engage in actual capitalism. Instead,
the role of the state is confined strictly to the gratuitous
assumption of risk within a larger capitalist enterprise,
in which someone else — read, Woody Johnson, Chad Pennington,
Fox and ESPN — makes the real crazy dollars. The same will
happen in Buffalo, if the exceedingly stupid Common Council
resolution to begin negotiations for a downtown stadium for
the Bills gathers any steam.
are exceptions to this rule. The city of Green Bay, Wisconsin
owns Lambeau Field, the team’s stadium, and that has worked
out fine enough. But for the most part, the state role in
pro sports is the same as it is everywhere else in major industry
in this country; socialize the risk, privatize the profit.
It’s the oldest scam in the book. A statist liberal should
demand a piece of the action; a conservative should tell Woody
Johnson to build his own goddamn playground. Both options
make plenty of sense. Only a sucker does neither.