I’m done with the National Football League. It’s run by a cartel of avaricious old men whose love of lining their own pockets takes precedence above all else.
That was true before Monday, and then it became even more true.
When the NFL announced it was relocating the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, on a slime trail of tax hikes and welfare for billionaires, it was the last straw for me. I’m not watching this sport anymore. I’m not listening to it on the radio. And I’m not investing any of my money in it.
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There is certainly no reason a $14-billion-a-year industry would fear losing me, a fan of nearly 50 years who spent his grade school years sleeping in Raiders pajamas and bed sheets. There are millions of fanatics who will take my place and continue to support a league that views its die-hard boosters as little more than marketing targets. And I don’t judge these people because I once was one of them.
I have childhood memories of glorious autumn Sundays when I cheered, raged and was reduced to tears by Raiders games. Growing up in San Jose, I first was drawn to the team because of its pirate logo – a symbol that stoked my iconoclastic fantasies. That the team actually was a mix of misfits and castoffs who thumbed their noses at convention but still managed to win made my love for the franchise even stronger. During the 1970s, my parents bought me a silver and black Raiders jacket, which I wore proudly. It still hangs in my closet.
My allegiance to the team continued into adulthood, even after the Raiders’ narrative – and the NFL’s business practices – began to clash with my own values. I stopped covering the NFL as a reporter a decade ago, but remained a fan and, as recently as January, ducked out on family activities to go to a downtown bar and watch the Raiders bomb out of the NFL playoffs.
But the Vegas move, which underscores the league’s unfettered greed and complete disrespect to fans, was enough to turn me off for good.
Look, all major sports leagues are about making money. And almost all major sports teams try to get cities to use public dollars to fund their private facilities. That’s often the price of admission these days for municipalities looking to lure or retain a major-league franchise.
Some will argue Sacramento paid too much to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle. But for all the Golden 1 Center critics out there, the fact is Sacramento did not raise taxes to fund the arena. The city’s contribution was capped at $255 million. The city essentially put up its parking revenues as collateral to fund a sale of public bonds for most of its share. Meanwhile, the Kings shoulder the cost of upkeep for the arena. Rent and taxes paid by the Kings eventually will reimburse the city for about two thirds of its contribution, and a once moribund downtown is now springing to life with development.
The Raiders move to Vegas is a far different deal. It’s being bankrolled in part by a $750 million hotel tax, the biggest piece in a nearly $2 billion financing scheme for a stadium that will host a dozen Raiders games in one season at most.
The hotel tax currently helps pay for schools and transportation. The Raiders’ portion of it was approved by the Nevada legislature after Clark County officials already had increased class sizes in schools for at-risk students, according to the New York Times. Let that sink in: Vegas schools are lacking funding, but there is plenty of money for the Raiders. In addition, the city will foot the bill for stadium upkeep while the owners reap the benefits.
All Oakland could offer was love for the Raiders and a promise to try really hard to build a privately financed stadium. But that pipe dream was obliterated by how the NFL does business. According to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the NFL was trying to force a publicly financed stadium on her while also trying to get Oakland to effectively cast aside its big-league baseball team, the A’s. What kind of league forces a city into such a “Sophie’s Choice” about its sports teams?
Three NFL teams have relocated within the last 18 months, destroying fan bases in St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland. According to the Sports Business Journal, each move has netted each NFL team a piece of the multimillion-dollar relocation fees, as they all share in the rewards. The haul for each team is estimated to be more than $50 million with each move.
But if the greed wasn’t enough to turn you off, you might want to consider the mounting evidence that football players pay a heavy price for our entertainment. Older players, such as former 49er Dwight Clark, are increasingly fearful the punishment they absorbed on the field is ruining their retirement years. Clark recently announced he had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Gale Sayers, the legendary running back from the 1960s, has dementia. Junior Seau, the Hall of Fame linebacker, committed suicide in 2012. An autopsy later confirmed that Seau’s brain showed signs chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. For years, the NFL had denied there was a link between football and CTE. Now, nearly 10,000 retired football players have signed up to receive payout from a $1 billion settlement with the NFL in a class-action lawsuit related to concussions.
As Raider fans know all too well, this is the second time the team has left Oakland in search of a new stadium. However, despite being deeply upset by the move, Patrick Kilkenny of Sacramento said he will remain loyal to the Silver and Black.
“I’ve been a fan for so long, I can’t imagine rooting for another team,” said Kilkenny, 39. “It’s a business. I know Oakland did what they could, but I’m going to be a fan regardless.”
Kilkenny isn’t an anomaly. I know other fans who already are planning Vegas weekends for Raider games, exactly as NFL owners envision. But not all of us.
“I can develop a productive hobby now,” said Jabari Lewis, a 29-year-old Sacramento-based Raider fan. “I have this guitar I can learn to play better. I’m studying to take a real estate exam and will have more time now. ... The Raiders have every right to run their business as they see fit, and I have a right as a consumer not to (patronize) their product.”
Agreed. I’m done with the NFL and the Raiders. It was fun while it lasted, but that’s over now.