Soccer Team Trying to Score on Cincinnati

Cincinnati        There must be something about being a billionaire that to really know you’ve made it in the big time you must have to own some kind of major league sports team so you can hang with your brothers, yes, mainly brothers, and say you’re a big leaguer too.  And, if you own a big-league team whether football, basketball, or baseball, and want to really “Jerry Jones” it, you have to build a huge, strapping stadium.  And to really get the respect of your buddy billionaires, you have to be able to sit around the clubhouse with a scotch and brag about how you soaked the suckers and got the taxpayers to carry the weight so you could collect all of the paydays.  Who knew that now applied to major league soccer in the United States as well?

Not many people, but they are finding that out now in Cincinnati thanks to the Futbol Club of Cincinnati, known as FCC locally, and its ownership group led by American Financial Group Inc. co-CEO Carl Lindner III and including Cintas Corp. CEO Scott Farmer, are the big bucks behind the ball.  The Major League of Soccer it turns out is considering expanding their league.  Yes, some of us forget that there is a major league of soccer, but that’s another story for another day.  To get a franchise you have to build or have a stadium that can hold 25 to 30,000 fans.  You also get to pay the league $150 million if you win the franchise and that seems to give the already rich a way to get even richer because it seems they get a share in the royalty of every soccer game televised in the States, including the English Premier League, the real major league of world soccer.

So now that we have the background clearer, the big news is the old story of how cities, meaning the taxpayers, get taken for a ride in building a stadium.  The controversy in Cincinnati, as I heard over and over in one meeting after another while talking to people about the ACORN Home Savers Campaign, is where to put the stadium and the cost of the shakedown.  The owners tout the fact in big letters that they would finance the $200 to $250 million to build the stadium but downplay the fact that they are trying to get tax-increment-financing which would knock off millions and millions year after year.  They had one deal in the Cincinnati suburb of Oakley where the city and county promised them $52 million in infrastructure.  They have another possible site in Kentucky, but I didn’t catch the giveaway there.  Then there is the west side location that they seem to want now that it would require tearing down a public high school stadium, relocating it, and building there.  FCC is playing divide-and-conquer on a community benefits agreement.  The school district wants taxes, and FCC is trying to nickel and dime them, as far as anyone knows.

That’s part of the problem.  No one really knows the real deal.  They have tried to roll the public authorities.  There is no transparency, and they are trying to fast track everything by the end of March, claiming that the MLS is going to decide whether Cincinnati or some other city wins an expansion team.

Unless something changes, this is not a game Cincinnati is going to win, unless they get on the field and protect the real goal of the city and citizens more aggressively.

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Stadiums are Public Playgrounds, so Protests Should be Common

Bonnabel High School Football Team in Jefferson Parish, LA kneels during National Anthem. Jefferson Parish Deputies have since refused to work detail at the games.

Bonnabel High School Football Team in Jefferson Parish, LA kneels during National Anthem. Jefferson Parish Deputies have since refused to work detail at the games.

New Orleans   Colin Kaepernick may never start another football came in his career. He pushed out a 49ers quarterback who has gone on to success as a starter in Kansas City, but after getting the 49ers to the Super Bowl and failing to win, he’s been in decline, despite his exciting promise. But, that’s sports. In real life, Kaepernick has started something that continues to grow and speak not only to his fellow players on his team and other sports teams, both amateur and professional, and that is the need to protest injustice. Given that his protest is about the continued racism in American society that manifests itself not only in discrimination but in crime and violence, his actions are timely. This protest isn’t declining, but spreading.

Kaepernick, when he was playing, was a wild, unpredictable, boundary breaker. He was an exciting runner and passer and in his moment it seemed like no one would ever be able to stop him. But now in this protest in the time of Black Lives Matter, he has been dignified and straightforward. He even added generosity to the mix. The public has responded to his protest by making his football jersey the number one selling shirt in the National Football League, and he has pledged to donate his share to charity in addition to another one million he has pledged to community groups engaged in issues at the heart of his concerns. As the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, he also has reached out to teammates and opponents who disagree with him, listened, and explained his position, and earned their respect if not their agreement. The New York Times noted that high school teams around the country are picking up the protest. The Women’s NBA has also stepped into action in their own way.

This is all a good thing. Athletes have opinions. They play on teams, but they are – and should be – individuals. They should be able to express themselves, and do so to the biggest audience possible. That’s just good tactics. Sports has already been hurt too often by being politicized, which makes the opposition to these protests harder to understand. The embrace of militarism and a sort of kneejerk conservativism has pigeonholed too much of sports into a cookie cutter conformity that is not the best of America. But I understand there are many who want there to be a bubble where they can pretend the real world doesn’t exist or, more accurately, that their world must dominate, but it’s definitely not professional sports.

Mostly because no matter what the superrich owners pretend, almost all of these stadiums are publicly financed and public properties. John Angelos, the chief operating officer of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team in defending the playing of Woody Guthrie’s anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” in addition to “God Bless America” at their games, hit the nail on the head saying,

“People forget a lot of these stadiums are publicly funded buildings and by law, they have to welcome people from all different walks of life. Sometimes sports can be narrowcast in the causes and groups focused on. Our idea is that everyone should be included; let’s not leave anyone out.”

Angelos is right. Not only is that something we need to remember about sports and public buildings, but something we need to keep in mind about every aspect of American life.

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