Sometimes, You Have To Pass The Ball

Jan 20, 2016
Originally published on January 20, 2016 1:55 pm

Dear People of St. Louis:

I want you to be good sports. Yes, you lost an NFL franchise, but that's just the way it is in America. Owners own teams so that they might move them to another municipality with better luxury boxes. Get over it.

Even New York, premier city of the world, has lost teams. So did glitzy, glamorous LA. Chicago? Hey, it was St. Louis that took the football Cardinals from Chicago before Phoenix took the Cardinals from St. Louis so that St. Louis could take the Rams from Los Angeles. And so on.

You wanna know something really bizarre? What large American city has suffered the most in the past few decades? All together now: Detroit. No argument. Yet the Motor City is the only old-line metropolis never to have lost one of its teams to another city, in any of the four big-time sports. The Tigers, Lions, Red Wings and Pistons are there today as sure as they were when what was good for General Motors was good for the country. Would you rather have a basketball team or would you rather be Detroit?

See, losing or gaining a franchise really doesn't have a thing to do, substantively, with your city. It only has to do with an owner trying to make more money for his own self.

Yeah, veritable legions of owners have found more welcoming metropolitan venues since I first started doing these essays in 1980, shortly after Morning Edition first intruded upon the morning. Not long thereafter I swore off regularly railing about greedy owners and poor, put-upon cities. You can only occasionally draw water from that same old well.

Alas, as universal as sport is, it's pretty finite. I get very envious of my general news colleagues who are always being handed sexy new stuff like global warming, China and Donald Trump, while my sports colleagues and I must be eternally satisfied with the same old home-court advantage, soccer and momentum.

Notwithstanding, as someone who has by now, delivered more than 1,600 of these weekly commentaries — which must be an arcane broadcast record of sorts — I hope that in all these years I've introduced some greater understanding and appreciation about an institution that is often derided as merely vulgar.

I do honestly believe that, in the 21st century, sport is the most significant cultural element in this imperfect world. It calls for serious attention. No, sport is surely not the purest human expression, nor that which will leave the deepest mark — but sport is an art, it has incredible appeal everywhere on this earth, and it fills so many human breasts with passion that it's impossible to dismiss it as simply the familiar junior partner of bread. Sport is more a devotion than a circus.

Others may well disagree with opinions such as that, so NPR will now, fairly enough, allow other diverse voices to also rise above the roar of the arena, and henceforth, rather than every week, my venerable opinions will be confined only to the first Wednesday of every month. Who knows, maybe the longer time between my orations might possibly produce more wisdom?

And so, with my apologies to Detroit, I now button my lip and take my leave 'til Feb. 3.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now to commentator Frank Deford, who has some thoughts on NFL teams and change.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Dear people of St. Louis, I want you to be good sports. Yes, you lost an NFL franchise. But that's just the way it is in America. Owners own teams so that they might move them to another municipality with better luxury boxes. So get over it. Even New York, premiere city of the world, has lost teams - so too ditzy, glamorous LA, Chicago. Hey, it was St. Louis that took the football Cardinals from Chicago before Phoenix took the Cardinals from St. Louis so that St. Louis could take the Rams from Los Angeles and so on. You want to know something really bizarre? What large American city has suffered the most in the last last few decades? All together now, Detroit - no argument - yet, the Motor City is the only old-line metropolis never to have lost one of its teams to another city in any of the four big-time sports. The Tigers, Lions, Red Wings and Pistons are there today as sure as they were back when what was good for General Motors was good for the country. Would you rather have a basketball team, or would you rather be Detroit?

See, losing or gaining a franchise really doesn't have a thing to do substantively with your city. It only has to do with an owner trying to make more money for his own self. Yeah, veritable legions of owners have found more welcoming metropolitan venues since I first started doing these essays in 1980, shortly after MORNING EDITION first intruded upon the morning. Not long thereafter, I swore off regularly railing about greedy owners and poor, put-upon cities. You can only occasionally draw water from that same old well. Alas, as universal as sport is, it's pretty finite. I do get very envious of my general news colleagues who are always being handed sexy new stuff, like global warming, China and Donald Trump while my sports colleagues and I must be eternally satisfied with the same old home-court advantage, soccer and momentum.

Notwithstanding, as someone who has by now delivered more than 1,600 of these weekly commentaries - which must be some sort of arcane broadcast record - I hope that in these 35 years I've introduced some greater understanding and appreciation about an institution that is often derided as merely vulgar. I do honestly believe that in the 21st century, sport is the most significant cultural element in this imperfect world of ours. It calls for serious attention. No, sport is surely not the purest human expression, nor that which will leave the deepest mark. But sport is an art. It has incredible appeal everywhere on this earth. And it fills so many human breasts with passion that it's impossible to dismiss it as simply the familiar junior partner of bread. Sport is more a devotion than a circus. Others may well disagree with opinions such as that, so NPR will now fairly enough allow other diverse voices to also rise above the roar of the arena. And henceforth, rather than every week, my venerable opinions will be confined only to the first Wednesday of every month. Who knows? Maybe the longer time between my orations might possibly produce more wisdom. And so with my apologies to Detroit, I now button my lip and take my leave 'til February 3. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.