Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dave Zirin: Bad Sports

This is the last book I read of 2011. Somehow that feels worth mentioning, though It is not altogether that monumental. If I've labeled my posts correctly, I read approimately 35 books this year. I lost count about 7 times while trying to count back, so I'm not even going for an exact count. That would be ludicrous.  "Bad Sports" weighs in in the bottom third of those books: Dave Zirin is a man I respect deeply as a public figure, but perhaps doesn't translate into book-dom. I highly recommend you tune into his podcast, "Edge of Sports" and follow him on Twitter: as he says, the man is fabulous at commentary "where sports and politics collide."

Zirin's thesis (and subtitle) in this book is well taken and generally well articulated: "owners are ruining the games we love." Professional sports- football, basketball, baseball and hockey- are owned by a bunch of really rich men who are living and leaching off of increasingly impoverished cities and managing to drive away fans at a time when fans need sports more than ever. This is particularly poignant to me right now as the A's ownership continues to sell of player after player- Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey have all been traded for next to nothing in the past two weeks- in the hopes that the A's will get a new stadium Anywhere Else.  The threat of the A's moving is being held over Oakland's head: fund a new stadium or else. Of course Oakland can't fund a new stadium for Oakland in a time where police can't afford to police, schools can't afford to educate, and I'm pretty sure that I popped a tire on a pothole again last night. So we've got a quagmire: ticket prices will continue to rise, fans will continue to be driven away, and someone, either Fremont or more likely San Jose, will pass a measure to publicly fund Lew Wolff and John Fisher's new stadium.  John Fisher has a net worth of 1.1 billion and Lew Wolff owns a whole lot of stuff. Oakland will lose unless they pony up a bajillion dollars they don't have or the A's move, which ever comes first. Supposedly San Jose will not pay to have the A's, but I'm hardpressed to believe it. In the meantime, San Jose's arguments for the move- revenue stream, jobs, etc, are bogus: Zirin conclusively demonstrates that any jobs created are crappy, seasonal, and underpaid service jobs. Revenue streams may be accurate if you're talking about for the rich owners who win no matter who comes to the stadium through TV deals; average fans can't afford to come to the games as seat prices spike and concession fees rise.

I love Zirin's argument, which boils down to no more taxes for rich owners and community ownership of teams, ala Green Bay Packers. He does a great job articulating my beef with sports and over-the-top nationalism at the ball park, which I've ranted and raved about before. I had no idea I had it so good. In some places, faith nights involve post-game prayer sessions, hosted by the owners. In others, Sarah Palin gets top billing. But my situation is not unique. The sad thing is that the Packers' situation IS unique, and that pro football has written it into their bylaws that no teams like the Packers- team owned, with 60% of proceeds going to charity- will ever exist again. Sadly this also means that no team will be so enmeshed with their community, and no community so enmeshed with their team. I believe Zirin wrote (I've returned the book to the library) that there are 50,000 fans on the wait list for season tickets. Can you imagine if this were the case in Oakland? I can imagine, in a distant dream. A girl can dream.