Go! You Packers! Go!

Current Uniforms--Green Bay Packers
Current Uniforms--Green Bay Packers

The Superbowl is underway, and I’m rooting for the Packers, because they have no owner–or rather, as left sportswriter Dave Zirin explained in a recent New Yorker blog post, they are owned by the fans.  Now that Wisconsin has a right-wing governor and state legislature, I love that their beloved team is publicly owned and made it to the Superbowl (though they are have the most world championships of any team).  Here’s some of Zirin’s post:

In a season where N.F.L. owners have steadily threatened to lock out the players next year unless they secure more profits in the next collective bargaining agreement, it’s poetic justice to see the Green Bay Packers, the team without an owner, make the Super Bowl. Actually, it’s not quite accurate to say the Packers are without an owner. They have a hundred and twelve thousand of them. The Packers are owned by the fans, making them the only publicly owned, not-for-profit, major professional team in the United States. The Pack have been a fan-owned operation since the primitive pro football days of the nineteen-twenties, when N.F.L. teams could be won in card games and no one foresaw the awesome power this sport would hold over both the American imagination and the American wallet.

In 1923, the Packers were just another hardscrabble team on the brink of bankruptcy. Rather than fold they decided to sell shares to the community, with fans each throwing down a couple of dollars to keep the team afloat. That humble frozen seed has since blossomed into a situation wherein more than a hundred thousand stockholders own more than four million shares of a perennial playoff contender. Those holding Packers stock are limited to no more than two hundred thousand shares, keeping any individual from gaining control over the club. Shareholders receive no dividend check and no free tickets to Lambeau Field. They don’t even get a foam cheesehead. All they get is a piece of paper that says they are part-owners of the Green Bay Packers. They don’t even get a green and gold frame for display purposes.

The shareholders elect a board of directors and a seven-member executive committee to stand in at N.F.L. owners meetings. But football decisions are made by General Manager Ted Thompson, perhaps the luckiest and happiest G.M. in sports. This structure allows Thompson to execute decisions, even unpopular ones, without an impatient, jittery billionaire breathing down his neck. Since his hire in January 2005, Thompson has made his share of controversial moves. But unlike his G.M. brethren around the league, who carry little or no job security, Thompson has been given the space to see his moves succeed or fail on their own accord. It was Thompson who decided to jettison legendary quarterback Brett Favre in 2008 for the unproven but younger and considerably lower maintenance Aaron Rodgers. Today, Favre is officially (we hope) retired and Rodgers stands at the pinnacle of his sport.

The Packers’ unique setup has created a relationship between team and community unlike any in the N.F.L. Wisconsin fans get to enjoy the team with the confidence that their owner won’t threaten to move to Los Angeles unless the team gets a new mega-dome. Volunteers work concessions, with sixty per cent of the proceeds going to local charities. Even the beer is cheaper than at a typical N.F.L. stadium. Not only has home field been sold out for two decades, but during snowstorms, the team routinely puts out calls for volunteers to help shovel and is never disappointed by the response. It doesn’t matter how beloved the Cowboys are in Dallas; if Jerry Jones ever put out a call for free labor, he’d be laughed out of town.

Here are the Packers: financially solvent, competitive, and deeply connected to the hundred thousand person city of Green Bay. It’s a beautiful story but it’s one that the N.F.L. and Commissioner Roger Goodell take great pains both to hide and make sure no other locality replicates. It’s actually written in the N.F.L. bylaws that no team can be a non-profit, community owned entity. The late N.F.L. commissioner Pete Rozelle had it written into the league’s constitution in 1960. Article V, Section 4—otherwise known as the Green Bay Rule—states that “charitable organizations and/or corporations not organized for profit and not now a member of the league may not hold membership in the National Football League.”

Read the rest of the post.

Zirin also had an article at the Sports Illustrated website on the role of soccer clubs in the uprising in Egypt.

I have a bunch of other good Egypt links to post–I will do that tomorrow.

–Chris Sturr

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