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Sports Authority

Hadley: Discrimination: know the line

| Monday, April 28, 2014

This has been a weekend of the bizarre.

To start, there are the awful and nauseatingly ignorant comments allegedly spoken by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Remarks like these are so beyond the realm of reason, there is absolutely nothing to discuss. If those words could indeed be attributed to him, then I think Sterling should not own an NBA team. It’s that simple. There is no justification or legitimate debate. NBA commissioner Adam Silver needs to address this as quickly as possible.

On a significantly less important note, a 49ers fan sued the NFL for $50 million Sunday after he was unable to buy a ticket for the 49ers-Seahawks NFC championship game, which was held in Seattle. Seahawks management limited sales of tickets to pro-Seattle markets in order to ensure that their home-field advantage was as large as possible.

So why $50 million? Well, this disgruntled fan, John E. Williams III, wanted to buy four tickets, so he feels that $10 million in punitive damages, along with $40 million in real damages, is a worthwhile settlement. Because many stadiums are built with the advantage of public subsidies, Williams argues, NFL franchises should be subject federal restrictions and he, as the victim of economic discrimination, deserves retribution.

First of all, $50 million? Really? Does Williams really think that going to the NFC championship game, which the 49ers lost, by the way, was really worth $50 million? Was the trauma of not attending a game where he would have been mocked and jeered by Seahawks fans really that bad? Does he think that, had he been there, the 49ers would have played any better?

But all of those criticisms are, to be fair, beside the point. Instead, let’s talk about the fact that Williams lives in Las Vegas and filed his suit there. It wasn’t his tax dollars that built CenturyLink Field. The people of Seattle and Washington paid, alongside team owner Paul Allen. If the 49ers had home-field advantage and decided not to sell tickets to Seahawks fans, would Williams have protested? Why have no Seahawks fans from California sued the NFL?

In a sport like football, where crowd noise can sometimes be a legitimate distraction on the field, home-field advantage matters a great deal. If this lawsuit succeeds, that home-field advantage can be compromised. So it is no surprise that the Seahawks are not the first team to limit sales to local fans. In a league as competitive and as intense as the NFL, why would a team not do all in its power to give its team every advantage possible, within the rules? Certainly the way that the Seahawks went about this was imperfect. But they did not break federal law.

The main point to take away from this is the difference between “economic discrimination,” as Williams calls it, and actual discrimination, like the kind Donald Sterling allegedly talks about. The juxtaposition of the two is striking and puts Williams’s suit in proper perspective. Sterling’s discrimination is the kind that is bigger than sport and reflects a disordered mindset. Williams’s “discrimination” is only about sports.

I don’t know if Williams will win his lawsuit or how much money he actually hopes to make from it. I am certain that he is simply frustrated that he could not be there to support his team, not stinging from “economic discrimination.” I know I would be, too. But he has not been degraded as a human being by not being able to attend. The Seahawks’ decision does not even enter the same level as Sterling’s comments.

Besides, if he was so desperate to attend the game, why did he not call a friend, a family member or even a stranger in Washington (or one of the other five or so states where tickets were sold) and offer to reimburse them if they bought him a ticket? I guarantee that wouldn’t have cost $50 million.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg