Harvey Wasserman on ownership and class warfare

It may not really be “socialism,” but community ownership seems to be both sane and fair. The new Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are the prime example. They are the only community-owned team in the NFL, but as Wasserman points out that ownership structure is no longer allowed. Why not? It seems to fit the pattern of privatization and dispossession that has been going on for a very long time. Recent examples are the demutualization of banks and insurance companies that I wrote about in my book, The End of Money. What will it take to reverse that tide and bring freedom back to organized sports? A boycott by fans might be a place to start, followed by the creation of new teams and leagues that make community ownership a requisite condition.–t.h.g.

Socialism triumphs at Super Bowl as class war looms
Harvey Wasserman
February 7, 2011 

Socialism has again triumphed at the Super Bowl.

The only major sports team owned by the community in which it lives has toughed out its fourth modern-era National Football League championship.

But the billionaire bosses of the rest of the league may be about to again assault the players—and the rest of us—who make it all possible.

Predictably, though FOX broadcast the Super Bowl, CBS refused to air a player’s union ad that was to air during another game on February 5.

The Packers’ gritty win underscores the kind of ownership that should be in place for all major sports teams. As a part owner (3 shares) of the Packers, I hate watching greedy union-busting bosses blackmail whole cities for tax breaks and new stadiums. They whine about “losses” but won’t open their books to the public or players.

The owners’ poster child is Daniel Snyder, whose Washington Redskins bears the most inexcusably racist moniker in America. Snyder is now suing the local alternative paper for an in-depth article he claims libeled him.

With some notable exceptions—like the now deceased Abe Pollin, who changed the name of the cross-town NBA Bullets—the owners treat these franchises like toys. They get taxpayers to fund obscenely overpriced arenas that double as private palaces and that always drain the communities that can afford it least. Then they threaten to leave town unless they get whatever they want.

Which now includes a huge give-back from the players and numerous other concessions.

The players are certainly well-paid by current national standards. And they’re hardly a band of angels. But unlike the owners, the game doesn’t happen without them.

And we’re only beginning to grasp the seriousness of the injuries many endure. Countless concussions suffered as “part of the game” could have been mitigated throughout league history by facing up to the issue and demanding better helmets and thoughtful rule changes.

The issue is doubly serious because the game as played downstream from colleges to little leagues mimics the NFL. Thousands of young people copying the big leaguers have suffered needless injury, often with lifelong impact.

But owners will almost always protect the status quo. And their corporate media will bill this likely lockout as a fight between “millionaires and billionaires.”

In fact, it’s between workers and owners.

As the superb sports commentator Dave Zirin has shown players who dare to speak out on issues of social justice often face serious repercussions from owners and the mainstream media.

Network sports bloviators love to rhapsodize on the small-town “cheese-head” roots of the Packers. But they never mention its not-for-profit status, or that the league now bans such ownership for other teams.

This is the great tragedy of American professional sports. Those of us who love these games, and the communities that support them, deserve to own the teams.

As the Packers have shown yet again, a not-for-profit enterprise can win the big games. And when owned by the towns in which they play, players and the society as a whole can win too.

Congratulations, fellow cheese-heads. May the rest of professional sports crumble at the feet of our community-based, not-for-profit ownership model.

And at those of the people who make the game possible by actually playing it.


HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is atwww.harveywasserman.com and www.lulu.com. This article was originally published by The Free Press, www.freepress.org.

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