Chris Hansen is the wealthy man who wants Seattle to loan/give him $200 million to construct a stadium for the possibility of bringing a professional basketball team to the city. In an editorial in the Seattle Times, Hansen sought to warm the cockles of our hearts by talking about the inspirational value of professional athletes. Perhaps he is using this argument because the usual line about pro sports making regions richer doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
According to University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson, “If you want to inject money into the local economy, it would be better to drop it from a helicopter than invest it in a new ballpark.”
Hansen said that when he was growing up in the Rainer Valley sports figures inspired him. He argues that struggling youth need professional athletes as heroes to encourage them to work hard and work with others.
I can see how he might have come to that conclusion. What I cannot understand is why we need to pay
$200 million to import such heroes. We had those basketball heroes here once. They left when their team’s owner found that he could make more money somewhere else. Look up in the sky, it’s… No, sorry it’s just a bird. I forgot that Superman got a better offer from another planet.
Rather than pay enormous sums to import heroes, maybe we should stop letting the Chris Hansens of the world define our heroes for us. Why should our heroes be people who perform a set of tasks so well that they get paid millions to work for a billionaire? It is the dream that the 1 percent want us to have: to be favored by them and to receive their blessing in the form of a large salary and bonus. The myth that any of us, if we apply ourselves, can be one of them is not only a lie but a lie that shackles us to the competition-based greed grab that infects the economy and politics of our nation.
Why should we be complicit in the subtle formulation of elitist values? Why not put forward heroes that embody an alternative set of values?
How about shining a spotlight on those people who work for low wages so that others can have a better life? How about holding up organizers such as Michele Marchand and Scott Morrow, who work for the organizations wheel and share and have been doing so for most of their lives? How about lifting up people in social service such as Bob Goetschius, who has given much of his life and heart to serve the men at St. Martin de Porres homeless shelter?
There are hundreds of such people in our city. They are hardworking, dedicated and skilled. They may not be able to put a basketball through a hoop, but they have helped thousands of people who may never be able to afford a ticket to a basketball game at Hansen’s stadium.
In 2011, the median wage for a player on the Atlanta Hawks (formerly the St. Louis Hawks, formerly the Milwaukee Hawks, formerly the Tri-City Blackhawks, formerly the Buffalo Bisons) was $2.5 million. The median wage for those who give their lives to serve those who are homeless or hungry, abused or oppressed in our city is undoubtedly hovering near the poverty line. These people aren’t doing it for the money. And I’m willing to bet that if they had access to the $200 million, they would not demand multi-million dollar salaries. They would want the money spent on those they serve.
If we are going to turn our world around, we first have to walk away from the values of the victors and start looking for solutions for the victims. If we want to change the way the world works, we have to challenge the assumptions of the boys with the bucks and start reclaiming our culture. Part of that work is reclaiming our heroes.
It may well be that sports stars inspired Hansen to be a whiz on Wall Street, but given the culture of Wall Street, I don’t see that as a compliment to the world of sports. It may well be that Hansen sees his attempt to wring $200 million out of our taxes as a noble quest to help others be like him. But the world seems to be suffering from a surplus of hedge fund managers. We need more organizers, nurses, teachers, social workers, prophets and advocates. We need more people willing to give their lives for something more worthwhile than their ego and the almighty dollar.
Heroes are the people we hold up and tell our children to emulate. We need to be careful who we put into that role. If we want a different world, we need new heroes.