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We the Fans set forth to elect team owners

By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000


It is, of course, an election year, which may or may not come as a surprise to some of you voters out there who do not, at the present time, have a stadium to build.

You can tell it is an election year because there are stern-looking men at podiums using sports cliches. They are throwing hats into rings and fielding questions and quarterbacking campaigns. They are in the first quarter with their eyes on the prize and ready to take off their gloves. They are moving toward the goal with a set game plan that may include going into the trenches. Many of them have been accused of illegal use of hands.

Politics borrows its language from sport because, to many of us, sport is easier to understand, not to mention more important when you consider, for instance, Bill Clinton's batting average. All of us agree, out loud at least, it shouldn't be that way. If democracy were to be truly served, not to mention republicancy, it would be sport that borrowed from politics.

Elections, for instance. Think about it. Shouldn't we be able to vote for our sports owner? Or, for that matter, against?

Wouldn't you love to vote the bad guys out? Wouldn't the chance to oust, say, Bill Bidwell drive you to the polls? Wouldn't you love to see a bumper sticker that read: "Impeach Modell"?

Think about it. When you get to the core of it, how different are politicians and sports owners? Same yacht club, different tables.

Ah, you say. That wouldn't work. People have to buy their sports teams. Trust me, you can say the same thing about a seat in the senate. But at least we get to hear the rhetoric.

For one thing, I'd bet taxpayers would pay for fewer stadiums. For another, I'd bet your ticket-buying experience would go a bit better. "Four bucks for a hotdog? You've blown my vote, Al Davis!"

Can you imagine the fun? Can you imagine the billboards? Can you imagine the debates?

MALCOLM GLAZER: "Stay the course! We've made the playoffs the last two years out of three! We've increased defense spending! We've de-Dilfered! We're talking a thousand points of light, and many of them on the scoreboard! Vote Glazer! The Bucs start here!"

EDDIE DEBARTOLO (special write-in candidate): "But you sued your fans! When I was in San Francisco, we never sued our fans."

GLAZER: "Nope. You were too busy committing felonies."

DEBARTOLO: "I am not a crook."

GLAZER: "Read my lips. No new seat deposits."

SOCRATES BABACUS: "Who am I? What am I doing here?"

If communities got to vote for their owners, Hugh Culverhouse would have been finished by Doug-Gate, surely by Bo-Gate. Marge Schott wouldn't have been around long, despite the endorsement from John Rocker. We'd have higher payrolls for our team and fewer ticket raises. Phil Esposito's tenure with the Lightning, with empty promises and spin-doctoring? Well, it would have been about the same.

VINCE NAIMOLI: "Hi. Tippy Canoe and Tyler, too. That's our new Class AA double-play combination, and by the time they get to the majors, we'll be winning. Four more years! Four more years!"

ART WILLIAMS: "Hello, you probably remember me as owner of the Lightning in its glory days. Well, I'm back, running on the Studs-Not-Duds ticket to be baseball owner."

NAIMOLI: "Glory days? You guys were awful. You called your players pansies!"

WILLIAMS: "Oh, that's just the newspapers making things into a big deal. You know how evil newspapers are."

NAIMOLI (nodding sagely): "Yes, I do. As I was telling George Steinbrenner ... "

WILLIAMS: "I know George Steinbrenner. George Steinbrenner is a friend of mine. And you're no George Steinbrenner."

NAIMOLI: "Ask not what your owner can do for you. Ask what you can do for your owner."

Picture it. The campaign promises. Kissing babies instead of placing a surcharge on them. A race for ownership of the Sacramento Kings, where you'd hear promises of a chicken in every pot instead of pot inside of every point guard. We'd even have an election to see who owned Arena League teams: (Local campaign slogan: "54-40 or fight.")

You'd have Pat Croce running for re-election in Philadelphia, because his tattoos match Allen Iverson's. You'd have Jerry Jones holding a dog up by his ears, Georgia Frontiere doing fireside chats and Ted Turner telling us how heavy his heart is.

You'd have Bill Davidson paraphrasing Lincoln: "Four scores and seven years ago, the NHL brought forth a new franchise ... "

You'd have Turner paraphrasing Lyndon Johnson: "My fellow Americans, I come to you today with a heavy heart. And it's because of that same Jane Fonda woman."

You'd have George Shinn paraphrasing Clinton: "I did not have sex with that woman."

We'd have democratic owners and republicans. We'd have lobbyists. We'd have special interest groups (skybox holders).

In the end, of course, we'd still have greedy, corrupt sports owners who are mainly interested in profits.

But what the heck. Maybe it'd keep them off Capitol Hill.

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