Sport can’t be political, can it?
Yes it can.
One of the biggest sports stories right now is the rise of Atlanta United , a new MLS soccer team. They have sold out Georgia Tech’s football stadium, and will do the same at the Atlanta Falcons’ palace when they move there this summer.
When I walk around my intown neighborhood these days I am greeted by dozens of Atlanta United banners, hung out of doorways and hanging on flagpoles in front of porches.
But turn on sports talk radio and you won’t hear a word about it. There the talk is of nothing but American football, and, given that it’s spring, of baseball.
There is no business excuse for not talking about the soccer team. There is only a political one.
The Atlanta Braves are the reason for this. The Braves are a baseball team. They started in Boston, as the Red Stockings, in 1876, and got their current name after a group of New York investors affiliated with Tammany Hall bought them over a century ago. They’re starting their season soon, although you can’t prove that from my neighbors.
We also have social issues with Cobb. Before the Atlanta Olympics Cobb County passed an anti-gay ordinance. Decatur, in DeKalb County, responded by calling itself the “Decatur Free State.” Good times.
The site for the new stadium was chosen, deliberately, because it was outside the range of the MARTA mass transit service, and at the intersection of two freeways. You can’t get there from anywhere.
Liberty Media, a Colorado cable company controlled by billionaire John Malone, spent the last several years running a scam on suburban racists, which eventually landed Liberty a cool billion dollars of taxpayer goodies, including a free stadium and acres of free development land around it. The state kicked in with a half a billion-dollar upgrade to the nearby freeway interchange, and the I-75 freeway running north of there. (Nothing south.) Liberty then created a “Tracking Stock” around the Braves, which trades under the stock symbol BATRA.
It’s really an incredible deal, as the sports jocks attest regularly. The team can’t lose money now. They’re the landlord for everything built in the mall next to the ballpark. They make money even in the off-season.
The deal was done in secret, and only local officials paid a political price. School taxes were diverted to Liberty, and so were road taxes. The land was given away, after having been purchased for much-needed parkland. The tax base was degraded and the team placed in a neighborhood where housing prices are declining.
The Cobb “businessmen” behind this scam, politically-connected plumber Jay Cunningham and security company owner John Loud, were quite plain about their aims when they thought it was something to brag on.
By the way, intown people aren’t the only folks upset about the move. There are plenty of conservatives unhappy about it as well. But the intowners are the only ones protesting with their dollars.
Still, the crackers’ main goal was achieved. While every other city is moving their team into their central city, within an easy walk of hotels and office towers, Atlanta’s baseball team just moved into the suburbs, beyond the reach of mass transit, supposedly away from black folks and those who, like me, consider black folks to be neighbors.
Now, it’s not like Atlanta City politicians are innocent in this quarter. Malone decided to run his scam because the city had already drained its sports subsidy coffers, a hotel-motel tax mainly paid by outsiders, to replace a perfectly functional, 25-year old football stadium called the Georgia Dome with a new football palace opening this summer called Mercedes Benz Stadium.
The difference is that at least the beneficiary was a local billionaire, Arthur Blank, not a corporation halfway across the country. Also, Blank gave us something back for the largesse. He got us the soccer team, and the design of the new park had soccer in mind. The lower-tier seats can be moved back to allow for a full-sized pitch (soccer fields are the size of Canadian football fields, not American ones), and at least for now the upper tier of seats will be left unsold, creating a 30,000-seat bandbox whose only fault is artificial turf, which we hope will continue to get better.
Soccer, it must be said, had a tough start in the U.S. Despite the success of the 1994 World Cup, the first decade of Major League Soccer was played in secret.
This changed with the launch of the Seattle Sounders in 2008. Suddenly Americans could see tens of thousands of white Americans showing us how soccer is supposed to be done. The chants, the march to the stadium, the tailgating, the tifos…for a variety of reasons people there got into it, and once we saw how fun it was, the rest of us wanted to do so as well.
Soccer has another advantage we don’t talk about. Soccer is international. It smells faintly European. For liberals, that’s part of the charm.
The launch of Atlanta United, with uniform colors just like the Falcons, was eagerly awaited intown. They were an immediate hit. Rooting for United is a political statement, from white intown residents whose tech jobs have been growing the economy while the racist suburbs have been taking the credit. The scene is deliberately multi-cultural, with chants inspired by hip-hop and a coach whose first language is Spanish. When microphones get close to the sidelines, all the commands are in Spanish, too.
The fact that this is all political can be heard on sports talk radio. Sports talk, like political talk, is a format designed with right-wing minds in mind, men (it’s almost all men) who ride around the city in trucks complaining that Mexicans, and not robots, are taking their jobs. Sports talk radio doesn’t cover Atlanta United.
To root for United, to root for soccer, is to root left. All kids can play soccer, rich and poor, male and female. All countries enjoy and understand the beautiful game.
So, fuck baseball. Fuck the Braves. Fuck Cobb County. Fuck Jay Cunningham and John Loud. Fuck John Malone, and fuck sports talk radio.
The future belongs to us. And if that means the future of sport belongs to soccer, that’s fine by me.