I’ve written before that sports discourse has a clear right-wing tilt, to the extent that one can identify in the collective conversation a political slant. By no means do I wish to suggest that this bias means that every talking head is a card-carrying conservative or that every conversation is rightish in tone and content. The political slant that does exist is in part a function of the degree to which sports coverage and commentary is the preserve of White males who, on average, lean conservative in their political outlooks. But, it’s also true that, most of the time, politics is simply not an explicit part of the sports conversation. Consequently, to the extent that an identifiable political outlook breaks through, it does so in the unspoken assumptions and conventional wisdom by which sports media operate. As I wrote about not too long ago, when Mike Greenberg suggested that athletes, such as Tiger Woods, should keep quiet about politics, that was based on a set of assumptions about politics that excluded from consideration the possibility that wearing a Nike hat everywhere you go is, itself, a political statement.
So, it’s been interesting, and surprising, to see some explicit political statements made by sportswriters over the past few days.
On Friday, in USA Today, long-time Mets and national play-by-play man Gary Thorne came out throwing bombs at the St. Louis Cardinals’ ownership and city officials over a proposed development project, Ballpark Village, on the site of the old Busch Stadium.
Here’s Thorne’s opener:
“They would be the first to raise their hackles at any discussion of welfare. They would be the first to grouse about taxes. They would disdain a raise in the minimum wage.
"They" are the many corporate giants in this country who wander the halls of local and national political offices looking for handouts under the guise of development monies, no interest loans and bonds, tax deferments and myriad of other corporate welfare programs.
They are happy to wrap themselves in theflag when the discussion is about a market-based economy and free enterprise, but they are more than willing to stick their paws out for tax dollars for private business development.
Sports are big business and the paws are many when it comes to hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund these private businesses.
For years, taxpayers have footed the bill for millionaires to build ballparks despite repeated independent studies that show the return is almost always negative for the taxpayer.
There is never any offer from the owners of sports teams to share the profits of the increase in value of sports franchises with those tax entities that provide such tax dollars.
No, that would be the private business side of the endeavor; the taxpayer contribution is the public side. In other words, when a profit is made, the millionaires get to keep it, but when they need to fleece the tax coffers, the taxpayers get to pay out.
The latest of these sadly repetitious public coffer raids is going on in St. Louis. Take note, sports fans, and heed history.”
Thorne then describes a bait-and-switch, by which the ownership group, in exchange for major tax breaks in the funding of the Cards’ new stadium, would agree to entirely fund a $60 million dollar downtown improvement project, the aforementioned Ballpark Village.
Now, however, the Cards and their partners are proposing a development deal that would be ten times pricier – and they want the city and state to pick up a significant part of the new tab.
Thorne’s furious at the new proposal:
“All the usual garbage baseball analogies are at work, with the supporters calling the first idea a single and the next one a home run. As with all such projects hooked up to the public utter, the spin is "make it homey and wrap it in the flag of baseball."
The Cardinals' proposal is to use city and state tax breaks in the form of retaining one-half the new tax revenue generated by the project for 23 years before everything returns to the city. What?
Has anyone other than the developers run the numbers on this? 23 years? By then the entire project will be old and tired and worth nothing and probably ready for the wrecking ball.
The chief of staff for the mayor of St Louis, who supports the project, was quoted as saying the city would "not support general tax dollars going for the project." Yeah, right.
The only reason the tax revenue going to the developers and the Cardinals owners is not general revenue is that it would get stuffed into their pockets before it ever hits the public books.
The claim by the mayor's office is a sham.
If the project is such a great idea, let the developers and team find the funds to build it and reap the profits. Maybe the project gets built two blocks at a time. What a concept: start small, with private money, and if it works, grow the business.
That of course involves risk, that wonderful creature that forces businesses to act like businesses.
Who wants to do that when one can still slosh in the public sports trough?”
There is a populist streak that runs through a good bit of sports commentary, and that streak often targets greedy owners.
But, this is an unusually clear statement and indictment of the shenanigans surrounding sports ownership and its hypocritical use of market logic to justify its intentions.
In another surprisingly straightforward political attack, Mike Lupica, in the Daily News, takes several shots at President Bush. The ostensible focus of the piece is the sentencing of the San Francisco Chronicle writers, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, whose reporting on Barry Bonds is based on leaked grand jury testimony, the sources of which they refuse to disclose. But, it seems clear that Lupica’s been waiting to go after the President:
“The government of George Bush, which will leak the name of a CIA operative named Valerie Plame when it suits its purposes, now wants Fainaru-Wada and Williams in jail because they won't reveal the names of the person or persons the government says leaked them grand jury testimony. It is always worth pointing out that if you ran the country the way Bush and his people do, you wouldn't want to encourage whistleblowers, either.
Once George Bush told baseball to get rid of steroids in a State of the Union address. Fainaru-Wada and Williams, through their reporting and later their book "Game of Shadows," did their part. They took the President at his word, obviously unaware that this President will say anything in a State of the Union, about weapons of mass destruction or anything else.”
If you see any other straightforwardly political commentary like this from sports commentators, from any side of the political battlefield, I’d be interested to hear about it.