Want to stop the fiscal cliff from advancing? Cut welfare to sports. | SportsonEarth.com : Patrick Hruby Article
Perhaps you’ve heard the news: America is barreling toward a self-induced “fiscal cliff” of federal tax hikes and spending cuts, largely because Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on how to make the nation’s budget moderately less unbalanced. On one side, President Obama wants to raise money by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans; on the other, House Speaker John Boehner wants to reduce costs by slashing social welfare programs. Both men and their respective parties seem stuck at an ideological impasse — think who’s better, Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith? only with the world economy at stake — and yet each camp is ignoring an obvious way out.
Well, maybe not a way out. But definitely a way forward. An easy, overdue fix to the nation’s fiscal woes. A course of action rock-ribbed liberals and hardcore conservatives can agree on. A policy shift that would not only save cash, but also act as a trust-building, goodwill-generating building block toward larger, harder and more essential partisan compromise.
Ready? Here goes.
Eliminate Sports Welfare.
During the recent presidential race, Mitt Romney was pilloried for his surreptitiously recorded remarks that “47 percent” of Americans are “dependent upon government,” believe that they are “entitled to … you name it” and will never be persuaded to “take personal responsibility and care for their own lives.” Romney was wrong about the 47 percent. (Disagree? Send your hate mail here before going Galt.) But he was right about the country hosting a system-gaming moocher class, an entitled, irresponsible, parasitic piglet subset, lazily suckling from the public teat, pulled up by shiny new bootstraps purchased with government giveaways, forever hiding in plain sight.
To find them, just flip on ESPN.
Or better still, visit any sports stadium.
They’re the team owners sitting in luxury boxes built with taxpayer dollars, charging PSL fees for seats constructed with the same. They’re the athletes writing off fines for bad behavior. They’re the multimillion-dollar professional leagues, Ozymandias-shaming college athletic departments and — ahem — charitable bowl games all enjoying lucrative and dubious non-profit status. Their ranks include Tiger Woods, whose namesake foundation once received a $100,000 federal grant; the Baseball Hall of Fame, which pocketed $1.57 million in federal funds between 2002 and 2006; and the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame, which seven years ago was given $75,000 as part of a larger appropriations bill funding the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development. (Additional point of incredulous outrage: The Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame doesn’t even include Jim Brown.) They are the underserving beneficiaries of inappropriate, unnecessary public subsidy, feathering their overstuffed nests of downy-soft private profit, adding to America’s astronomical charge card bill all the while. They are the Welfare Kings (hi again, Jeffrey Loria!) and Queens (rest in peace, Georgia Frontiere!) of sports, crying poor while grifting and lifting society’s collective wallet, perpetually grabbing for more, more, more.
And they are legion.
Consider stadium subsidies. When Kubla Khan built his stately pleasure dome above a sunless sea, he did not strong-arm the Xanadu County Board of Directors into funding the project by threatening to move to Los Angeles. His mistake. He wouldn’t last five minutes as an American sports owner. According to Harvard professor Judith Grant Long and economist Andrew Zimbalist, the average public contribution to the total capital and operating cost per sports stadium from 2000 to 2006 was between $249 and $280 million. A fantastic interactive map at Deadspin estimates that the total cost to the public of the 78 pro stadiums built or renovated between 1991 and 2004 was nearly $16 billion. That’s enough to build three Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. Or fund, in today’s dollars, 15 Saturn V moon rocket launches — three more than the number of launches in the entire Apollo/Skylab program. It’s also more than what Chrysler received in the Great Recession-triggered auto industry bailout ($10.5 billion), and bigger than the 2010 GDP of 84 different nations. How does this happen? Simple. Team owners ask for public handouts and threaten to move elsewhere unless they get them, pitting cities against in each other in corporate welfare bidding wars — wars rooted in the various publicly granted antitrust exemptions that effectively allow sports leagues to control and maintain a limited supply of teams to be leveraged against widespread demand.