6 Right-Wing Sports Team Owners Bankrolling Their Radical Agenda With Your Tax Dollars
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Chances are that basketball fans cheering on the Orlando Magic’s star center Dwight Howard haven’t a clue they’re also supporting the radical right-wing ideology of the team’s billionaire owner, Richard DeVos. And when hockey fans root for the Philadelphia Flyers, they are likely unaware that the team’s war-mongering owner, Ed Snider, is profiting off of their support.
While establishment pundits often claim that sports and politics don’t mix, David Zirin, author of Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love and sports editor for the Nation, argues just the opposite. He recently told AlterNet that, “The ability to manipulate politics, the ability to pull strings, and the ability to do so without an ounce of public scrutiny -- that is your typical major sports owner.”
The exploitation of professional sports by the powerful is most evident in the hyperpatriotism that saturates almost every major sporting event. The aftermath of 9/11 has seen professional sports, particularly the National Football League and Major League Baseball, co-opted to promote a culture of war under the guise of patriotism and “supporting the troops." The military is more visible than ever in professional sports with fighter jet flyovers that follow the national anthem, the NFL’s military recruitment stations at preseason games, and soldiers returned from war surprising their families for all to see.
Andrew Bacevich recently wrote about the spectacle he witnessed at a Red Sox game on the 4th of July. The Navy and the Red Sox teamed up to perform a “public relations triumph” by reuniting Bridget Lydon, a sailor “serving aboard the carrier USS Ronald Reagan” to aid in the Afghanistan war, with her family for the entire ballpark to see. The crowd went wild, erupting in cheers and applause to “honor the families whose sons and daughters are serving our country,” just as the voice from the loudspeaker had requested.
While the ever-increasing patriotic fervor is easy to recognize, there are less visible connections between politics and sports on the part of professional sports team owners, who are among the wealthiest people in the world. They’re also some of the most influential right-wing ideologues in the country.
The intermingling of professional sports ownership and right-wing politics is no more apparent than in the case of President George W. Bush. Long before Bush entered the world of politics, he was part owner of the MLB's Texas Rangers beginning in 1990. The connections he made during his time with the Rangers helped propel him to White House. In 2004, the Associated Press reported that "More than a dozen current and former owners and family members are among the president's top re-election fundraisers.” The report added, “The Bush campaign has also received direct contributions from owners and executives of more than half of the sport's 30 teams.”
During his years as part team owner, Bush and his ownership crew pressured the Texas government into building them a new taxpayer-funded stadium by threatening to relocate the team. In the end, the owners succeeded in securing $135 million from the local government to build a $190 million ballpark. Meanwhile, Bush’s investment in the Rangers skyrocketed. According to Zirin, by the time Bush “cashed out in 1998, the return on his original $600,000 investment in the Rangers was 2,400 percent, upping his takeaway to a cool $14.4 million.”
While all team owners take advantage of their power and the taxpayer subsidies that often finance their stadiums, six go even further by using their ownership power and privilege to push their radical right-wing ideology onto an unsuspecting fan base.