Do we want a pro football team in Minn.?Published 8:46am Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Column: Notes from Home
My father was the only person who watched sports on TV when I was growing up, and we all — including my mom — learned to keep away from the living room when a game was on.
Dad didn’t like any disturbances or distractions, and we learned to play outside or at a friend’s house if we wanted to make noise (maybe that’s one of the reasons I started reading so many books). Myself, I didn’t understand the attraction or the purpose. I also didn’t understand how he could watch the game while sleeping on the sofa. It must have been some weird kind of ESP that allowed him to take in those broadcasts, because if one of us crept in to change the channel or turn off the TV, he was instantly awake.
I tell this story because it’s important that readers see the disconnect between sports and me. I do not write eagerly about sports at any level, and professional sports — a televised millionaires’ playground — is even further outside my comfort zone.
I’m entering my discomfort zone today, however, because something has crystallized for me as I’ve listened to the debates about a stadium for the Vikings. Too many people seem to be talking about a false choice. The real issue isn’t whether the “taxpayers” of Minnesota should or should not subsidize a new facility for the billionaire owners and the millionaire players. It’s not even about how large that subsidy should be.
The real choice we Minnesotans face is this: Do we want a professional football team in the state of Minnesota?
Look at the history of stadium construction in the past 20 years. When and where have the owners and players of an NFL franchise paid the full costs of stadium construction? The NFL is not going to suddenly experience a change of heart and ask a team to pay the full costs of constructing a new stadium in a place like Minnesota. If we continue to be stubborn – hell no, we won’t pay – the team will go away. Perhaps to LA. Perhaps somewhere else.
I’m sure some Minnesotans recognize this obvious choice, but apparently not enough do, particularly politicians. So the question needs to be asked: Do we want a team or not?
My answer is yes. Speaking as a non-fan, as someone who is unlikely to attend a football game up in Minneapolis or watch the Vikings on TV, I think we need to start figuring out how much we’re going to contribute.
Regardless of my own feelings about professional sports, I can see how important this is to others – to kids, to men, to women. Having a professional football team is also important to the regional economy, to the image of the Twin Cities as a place to think about for investments or even live. It is a component of a community’s quality of life, the ephemeral thing about a place that is so hard to see in spreadsheets and tax bills.
Yes, we’ve got budget problems and an unfair tax burden, but even so, I still think we should say yes to the Vikings. The NFL has created an imbalance — the playing field here is not level and they have all the advantages. If leaders in the state don’t figure out the real choice, and figure it out soon, the hits to our image and to our identity, will be huge, bigger than the way it looked and felt when the North Stars pulled out in favor of Texas.
The choice is stark, and it will sting, but it really is between having the Vikings here or watching them drive down the highway to play somewhere else. We can negotiate about amounts or how we provide the subsidy, but that’s it. Sometimes complicated issues really do boil down to equations as simple as that.
Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column appears every other Tuesday.