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American Feudalism: Why NFL Teams Shouldn't be Owned by Individuals
The problem isn't the game. It's the people who own the game.
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Across eastern Missouri, customers visiting a network of sports-themed bars (dubbed Hotshots) will get the chance to urinate on Stan Kroenke’s face. This is the second time that Missourians get such an opportunity. The last time this happened, when Kroenke’s then St. Louis Rams moved from the Gateway to the West back to its original home in Los Angeles, “sports fans” at Hotshots found dozens of Kroenke faces plucked into urinals and mounted on dartboards. This time, faced with the agony of watching their once beloved home team play for a Super Bowl crown, Hotshots returns to a reliable insult.
I don’t blame the “fans” who unzip their anger upon Kroenke. It doesn’t take much research at all to come to the conclusion that he’s an unsavory character. That St. Louis is still paying for the Edward Jones Dome adds to the sting. That Kroenke’s wife owns two professional teams in Denver (the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL Avalanche) in a blatant loophole move flouting the NFL’s lame efforts to limit monopolization…? That should be more galling.
Reading Kroenke’s biography doesn’t salve the wounds, either. It’s the modern American Medieval European story of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps acquiring money you never earned. After laboring for years in his tiny home town working for his father, Kroenke eventually worked his way to wealth married into wealth once he exchanged vows with Ann Walton—the hard working employee of daughter of Walmart founder, Sam Walton. Together this hard working extremely fortunate power couple earned bought their way into a sizable corner of the professional sports world.
Along the other sideline, the New England Patriots’ celebrate their own feudal lord in the form of Robert Kraft. Another American businessman Medieval European vassal who rose to the top of the Rand-Whitney Group by working hard being the owner’s son-in-law. And as I’ve written about before, we can add our own Jim Irsay, who climbed the Colts’ executive ladder inherited the Colts franchise from his iconic father his bat-shit crazy old man.
This is the culture we celebrate. This is the culture that allows the feudal vassals who own the likes of the Colts and the Reds and the Browns and the Seattle Supersonics to demand that taxpayers fork over hundreds of millions for gleaming new stadiums. When those stadium construction projects rip up ancient neighborhoods and family business…? The vassals don’t care. And neither do we. When those gleaming new stadiums age a couple decades…? When the vassals demand more tax money for a newer, better, fancier palace…? The vassals still don’t care. And neither do we. We put on our red baseball caps and wrap ourselves in our Reggie Wayne jerseys, and we fervently hug the fantasy that our team somehow belongs to us.
This is not a condemnation of the game. Football is still intrinsically beautiful. Nor is this a condemnation of capitalism. The notion of working for an income and earning your way to the corner office remains one best testaments to the superiority of Western Society. But this is a condemnation of a lazy, ancient mindset that rewarded bloodlines and wedding rings over sweat and ingenuity. The problem in this case isn't football. The problem is the people who own football (and other sports by default). Thus, we should rethink the ownership structures enthusiastically supported by professional leagues. There’s a reason, after all, why the Green Bay Packers still exist. And there are plenty of reasons why the NFL made damn sure that no other team could be owned by the community whose name is spray-painted in the endzone. For all the chatter we spout in this country about what makes America “Great,” it seems like the examples we turn to for inspiration are always the same feudal holdovers: inherited wealth, brazen arrogance, a disconnect with the Average Joe, and disregard for the social and environmental consequences. The sort of thing I see when I watch Game of Thrones.
And full disclaimer: I am going to a “Super Bowl” party tonight. I may watch some of the game, but I don't know how much. If Brady makes a gutsy throw to double-coverage, I'm going to watch. I'm going to marvel at it, too. Athletic superiority is worth awe, same as a three-minute Mato Nanji guitar riff. Like I said: I still love football, and if the billing is worth the cost of the ticket, I will still go to a game or two. But also like I’ve said before, I’m going as a customer. Maybe someday I’ll be a fan, again. But in order for that to happen, the people running the league are going to have to earn that right, not have it handed to them by their dead parents' lawyers.
Wheeler proudly teaches AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He also contributes to the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for other publications. He started learning to play guitar last fall, but he remains terrible at it.