Monday, July 13, 2015

Letter to American Sports Fans

This is a letter my fellow citizen-fans. It is time to wake up. The NBA Finals are over and draft is coming on Thursday. While the league has begun planning next season, this is a time for reflection for fans to consider and choose again before the fall rolls around. Let’s use this moment for some socially sober thoughts about where we put our time and money. It’s time to recognize that –no matter our home team’s record- we are all losing as citizens.

Both cities that were represented in the NBA Finals are economically devastated communities who have been allowed to pour their civic pride into their privately owned sports team. Their base of support comes from the ‘citizen-fan’ who has more commitment to sports than voting. The irony is that these professional sports teams are now owned by the same capitalist oligarchs responsible for blighting the cities who pour their frustrations into consumer support for privately owned sports teams. Psychologically it’s an Orwellian trick of savage of duplicity and citizen-fans need to stop getting suckered into diverting their sense of community into billion dollar franchises privately owned by corporate robber barons.

The modern sports owner is a who’s who of capitalist greed and corruption. If you look at just the NBA playoffs you will find a pool of incredibly wealthy and privileged men whose companies are getting sued or under investigation for some type of corruption. US Department of Justice recently filed suit against Quicken Loan for approving illegal mortgages and contributing to the economic depression of urban areas like Detroit. Quicken Loans is owned by Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The majority owner of the Golden State Warrior is Joe Lacob, who is a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfied & Byers. You may remember that venture capitalist name because it was recently sued for systemic sexual harassment and discrimination.

Both the Warriors and the Cavs had a long road to the finals by defeating other morally questionable owners and their billionaire pet teams. The Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets, owned by Leslie Alexander who is also a 20% owner in First Marblehead Corporation which was not only involved in the 2008 subprime mortgage fiasco but in packaging implosive private student loans with Bank of America. Houston defeated the LA Clippers, who are one year out from under Donald Sterling ownership because was banned from the leagued for his racist comments.  Sterling is also notorious for losing one of the largest housing discrimination lawsuits in US History. On the Eastern Conference side, the subprime mortgage cheater’s team (the Cavs) defeated the Atlanta Hawks, who were owned by Bruce Levenson last year before he sold his stake in the franchise after his racist emails came into the public spotlight.

 The make-up of sports owners club is monochromatic: they are older, white male billionaires whose primary income is from financial fields that usually have a hand in some form of predatory capitalism and speculation. Their wealth was probably derived from a system that fostered massive income inequality and socially regressive stances on race, gender, sexuality, and basic human rights. Yes, there are exceptions. The Green Bay Packers are publicly owned by the community and Mark Cuban seems like a really cool guy interested in meritocratic form of capitalism in which the best ideas win. But these kinds of owners are far and few between in a depressingly gray-haired landscape. Now there isn’t anything inherently wrong with morally and financially corrupt people buying something, even a professional team.

Sports franchises and all they entail -the logos, name, legal rights- are just pieces of property. The athletes who sweat for these teams have voluntarily signed a legal contract to a corporation because it will be mutually beneficial to both parties. The dastard and duplicitous deed is in tying community pride to these corporations owned by capitalist oligarchs. In cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Oakland it’s obvious to see urban blight that has come from these same private equity firms and venture capitalists. But let’s not put New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and other international cities on a pedestal. Passionate citizen-fans who pour their money into season tickets, jerseys, and paraphernalia are helping to support the very inequality in their cities that makes their life so difficult. They are economic patsies.

Now at this point I should bring up a personal disclaimer: I'm a Miami Heat fan. The South Florida sports teams that I root for are probably -on the whole- just as rife with philosophical and political contradiction. I have no animosity toward LeBron, the Cavaliers, or the city of Cleveland. Even though I think their owner is a money swindling, reverse mortgage predatory housing con artist who has made billions off of decimating cities like Cleveland and has such a preening sense of entitlement that he can talk about how the Cavs getting to the final will rejuvenate a city his financial policies have intentionally wrecked, and get Ohioans to give him even more money in the form of buying Cavs jerseys and tickets to feel better about their depreciated standard of living that benefits people like him and perpetuating this snake-eating-its-own-tail pernicious capitalism...I wish them well. And by well, I'm not talking about who wins a children's game.

To every citizen-fan I hope you can root for your team without spending another dollar on them. I hope you can do your town a favor and vote a socialist into office that will strip away tax credits for your local sports owners. I hope you defund the professional sports complexes and the  welfare system for dilettante playboys. I hope you bring about a truly revitalized Cleveland with affordable housing, communal economics, fair-tax sharing for schools. I hope you can learn from states that have awful sports teams (like Minnesota) and have progressive policies that more fairly works toward the benefit of all people and not about holding up a trophy endowed with all your deferred dreams.

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