The nationalized leagues
Devon Chenelle | Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Once upon a time, I was the mayor of a small town that was utterly ordinary but for one quirk: it loved dachshund racing. The town even operated a dachshund training program, complete with amateur leagues funneling the fastest dogs to the local professional team.
The town’s massive sacrifice of time and money was rewarded with watching the professional team’s weekly meets. To ensure everyone could watch, thousands had to buy expensive tickets, because the owner, Roger, refused to televise games that didn’t sell-out.
Although I thought the town had already paid for its viewing experience by training virtually all the professionals, I consoled myself by remembering the tickets paid our beloved racing dachshunds, many born into desperate canine poverty.
That qualm resurfaced when Roger arrived in my office with a request.
The old track, he said, was cutting his profits — he needed more space to hawk nachos and luxury boxes. Although he was a billionaire, Roger continued, he simply can’t afford new facilities. Given the town’s love of the dog races, he felt it should help pay for a new track.
The town could never afford that expense without depleting pension and education funding, I replied. Roger grimaced, and murmured Los Angeles was bereft of a dog-racing track.
Though shocked at Roger’s cupidity, I countered. The town could help pay for your new track, I said, if taxpayers receive team shares and discounted tickets.
When I finished, Roger looked like I had suggested his children take a week’s sojourn at the Neverland Ranch, and then stormed out of my office while denouncing me as a communist.
A paroxysm of fear hit me. How could I face my constituents if my dispute with Roger lost the town’s dachshund racing squad?
As I began drafting my resignation, a mad heresy whispered in my ear. It said the town does everything Roger’s organization needs, then pays to watch our labor’s fruits. It said Roger imposes costs for products he didn’t produce on those who did, and should be treated like any unnecessary and expensive liability.
An idea took root. It grew when I discovered that a Wisconsin town once made their dog racing team communal property. They’re now the smallest town with a professional dachshund racing team, their team legendarily successful.
I awoke the next morning feeling certain. That day, I signed an executive action transferring the team’s title to the town. Roger’s Fifth Amendment right to “just compensation” for “private property … taken for public use” was respected, with Roger compensated over time from the team’s future profits, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Outrageous as that fable may seem, it’s not far from the real relationship between American municipalities and their professional teams. A Bloomberg report revealed there are currently 64 publicly-funded professional stadiums, while sports franchises’ values have doubled since 2000. In the NFL alone, current stadiums are the beneficiaries of $6 billion of public largesse. When public funding isn’t secured, extortionate relocation threats are often followed through with, to recent outrage in St. Louis and Seattle.
Why do such moves call for drastic action? Professional sports teams entertain millions, generate economic growth and bolster civic unity. As vital public goods, they ought never be privately monopolized and subjected to individual caprice and domination by cabal. Though many Americans recoil at such talk, public institutions, from schools to hospitals, form society’s backbone. Would anyone advocate eliminating America’s public parks and museums? Public institutions produce social cohesion — unsurprising, given their initial role combating Marxism’s and fascism’s appeal to the disaffected masses.
Skepticism about public institutions’ value may be allayed by surveying an idealized age: the 1950s. Those years’ prosperity is unimaginable without the GI Bill and the public universities that grew around it, as is modern, interconnected America without the National Defense Interstate Highway Act.
If a good’s vital public status is insufficient to demand nationalization, its simultaneous reliance on public support is. Perhaps more significant than public stadium funding is the public’s operation of the amateur programs that produce professional players. Imagine if the American government established a colony on Mars, then gave the rights to profit from the colony to a private individual — while still supplying the colony through public funds. Professional franchise owners’ situation is scarcely less obscene.
Our professional sports teams are produced and supported by the many, and profited from by the (very) few. This is symptomatic of a national trend, as tax revenue is transferred towards influential cliques and away from the voiceless multitude; taxpayer-funded stadiums are cousins to the bailouts and interest-free loans for banking executives who can never fail. Without legislative action, commonly enjoyed and supported public goods will be supplanted by private fiefs, subsidized by the masses for the wealthy elite.
Devon Chenelle is a junior in Keough Hall. He is a history major with an Italian minor. He can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.