Nation sports writer Zirin (People’s History of Sports in the United States, 2008, etc.) continues his sports-themed muckraking with a blistering screed against the owners of major U.S. sports teams.
As sports increasingly become big business, the men who fund America’s major-league football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams have gained considerable influence. The author calls out these deep-pocketed billionaires for an extensive array of moral and ethical crimes, ranging from bilking taxpayers to build new stadiums (and offering nothing in return) to using their teams to promote right-wing religious and political agendas. He makes a compelling case that publicly funded stadiums rarely, if ever, benefit a community. He cites three damning examples: New Orleans, where Katrina victims huddled in the publicly funded Superdome while neglected levees gave way; Minneapolis, where a groundbreaking ceremony for a new stadium was sheepishly cancelled after the collapse of a decrepit bridge killed 13 people; and Washington, D.C., where politicians committed $1 billion of public money for a baseball stadium despite enduring the district’s highest poverty level in a decade. Zirin caustically, almost gleefully, castigates notorious owners, including the dictatorial George Steinbrenner (New York Yankees), the housing slumlord Donald Sterling (Los Angeles Clippers), the Napoleonic Daniel Snyder (Washington Redskins) and the misogynistic beneficiary of nepotism James Dolan (New York Knicks). Overall, the author’s arguments hit the mark, though he occasionally confuses personal bêtes noires with righteous anger on behalf of the masses, such as when he rails against owners’ religious and political affiliations. He also heaps praise on the utopian public-ownership model of the Green Bay Packers, but offers no other hopes for a working alternative. It’s hard to believe that he couldn’t find at least one socially benevolent owner—Mark Cuban? Robert Kraft?—to profile.
Zirin rightfully chastises uncompromising free-market ideologues who happily accept social welfare. Now, if he could only make them listen.