My former colleague Mark Naymik opened what should be a serious discussion on sports funding. We both worked at the Free Times.
At least I hope it opened the debate. It’s long overdue.
He casts Council President Martin Sweeney as the heavy in the failure of the city to pursue some of the football stadium naming rights money – put at $100 million – for the city.
After all the stadium was built by the city, on city land, is financed by the city and its upkeep cost are borne by the city. And it pays no property taxes. So profits go to the team owner, not the city. Does that make sense? To anyone?
Why Naymik didn’t mention Mayor Frank Jackson I don’t know. Mayor Jackson has the bully pulpit to put some pressure on Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. Naymik says Haslam has Sweeney under a spell. Jackson too apparently. Jackson is still the mayor, isn’t he?
Actually, he has everybody under a spell. Especially the community’s watchdog, the Plain Dealer.
He follows Al Lerner in that occupation.
Lerner, by the way, didn’t have naming rights. But really, he did. He had two giant electronic boards placed at each end of the stadium. Very visible from the lakeside drive. And clearly noticeable from City Hall. Especially the City Council hearing room. A direct sighting.
Lerner cleverly had the stadium electronic board promoting MNBA, the old credit card company that made the Lerner family billionaires. He had free name rights.
He never paid the city a dime for his advertising gimmick.
You have to know your past to know the present. And the future.
Mayor “it is what it is” Jackson never thinks about “this is what it should be.”
Naymik, unfortunately, let him continue that charade on this issue.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the mess created by former Mayor Michael White and his lawyer, now conveniently a Browns executive, Fred Nance. City Council at the time had nine lawyers among its 21 members. Jim Rokakis would boast of the high caliber Council. Didn’t make much of a difference from today’s lack luster bunch.
I wrote in the Free Times then that “Council seems to have forgotten that it’s a political body as well as a legislative one.”
And plenty of the blame lies at the door of the Plain Dealer. Lots and lots.
In February 1996 I wrote the following in Point of View, a newsletter I published, under a one-word headline about the PD: “PANDER!” It was was the height of the Browns move to Baltimore.
The greatest calamity Cleveland ever faced was the loss of the Browns. What tragedy. At least according to the news headlines.
The paper exhaustively pumped up the bereavement. So did the broadcast media echo.
Nothing was spared. The headlines were massive: “Browns move in the works.”
“Gloom, anger fill the stands.”
“Mayor fights Browns move.”
All headlines dominated the front page with huge photos, including one of a dismayed Big Dawg. The town wore black.
Even the day following Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, the PD front page headline went to the Browns. Who is Rabin to our football team?
They’ve been the salesmen of all this shit. Cleveland resident are mere collateral damage.
Therefore, I wrote:
“Possibly the Plain Dealer should change its name to the Pandering Dealer, given the coverage of the past half year when sports and rock and roll appear to be the daily menu at Ohio’s largest.
“It’s a mind-fucking perpetrated by those supposed objective informers of a community who are really so tightly connected to the powers that be that any agenda offered by so-called ‘civic and business leaders’ a catch-all description for those who set community agendas in all cities, that they become the public relations apparatus for private interests.”
I went on to chronicle “pounds of newsprint, huge front page headlines with enormous color sports photos, entire sections within the paper which crowd out real news, and column after column of adulation…” I counted the inches of space given to the dirge. It was massive.
What was the PD saying to the politicians? Give them everything they want. And Mayor White did just that.
Frank Jackson was a “No” vote on the stadium. I remember going up to him the night of the vote. White needed ONE more vote to make the deal immediately effective. Without a two-thirds vote of Council the legislation would need two weeks to take effect. Jackson, a White ally, was pressed for his vote. Would Jackson buckle? After all, the legislation would pass with or without his vote. Jackson said, “No.” He would not relent. Where is that Jackson now?
I noted: “It would take too much space to detail the content inside the paper – the editorials, columns, cartoons, not to mention the sports pages themselves, devoted to coverage of this issue.
“For days and weeks after, and then months…came an outpouring of passion about the perfidy of Modell, the fuming, ditched fans and a newspaper promoted campaign, led by May that really was propaganda. Pandering.
I concluded that “The news pandering has spread into the consciousness of the community. This back-slapping, feel good, servile toadying is infectious, as is the victimization of the Browns issue… and helps form a sickening atmosphere of accepting the status quo and not looking at our problems… It allows those who seize and control the resources of the community to go unexamined.”
I ended: “How successful has the Pee Dee been in its promotion of the city and its present agenda can be attested by the fact that there is not one single voice of any significance in the community, and only echoes in the rest of the media, that speaks in opposition to the corporate agenda as championed by Ohio’s largest.”
“The final vote (on the Browns deal) came about 10 p.m. on Friday’s NFL deadline with inhabitants of the political biosphere essentially worn out by the prolonged process. Council gulped the deal, which according to a Pee Dee editorial weeks ago, “Council will have to swallow.”
Get ready to swallow again.
Next stop: A sin tax extension at a cost of more than $100 million. Watch where the Pee Dee stands. Or rolls over.
Not with Naymik. But with Sweeney and Jackson.
That’s why I wonder if the paper really will be missed four days a week.
It might be a blessing.