' . . . a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries'

August 30, 1996|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

MIAMI -- ''The pride and the presence of a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries.''

Art Modell, owner of the Baltimore Ravens (formerly the Cleveland Browns), said that in the September issue of Cleveland magazine.

He said a lot more, too. Said that a team provides a town with a ''great social common denominator'' and has a ''tremendous binding effect on the public.'' He said he spoke with ''all due respect to the learning process.''

Actually, he spoke with no respect at all. Or humility. Or common sense. Spoke like a poster boy for anti-intellectual America. Memo to Mr. Modell: Next time, engage brain before operating mouth.

''The pride and the presence of a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries.''

Right. And hockey teams are more important than schools, I suppose. Basketball teams preferred over public parks. Baseball teams more significant than hospitals.

Maybe he's right

The mind reels. Both at the stupidity of it . . . and at the thought that it might conceivably be true. Hey, at my library they have to set up trash cans to catch the water when it rains. I've never seen a pro sports arena with a leaky roof, so maybe there's something to what he says.

Mind you, that lamentation comes from a sports fan, or, at least, a hoops fan. I've probably spent a cumulative year of my life pacing before the television muttering, ''C'mon, Lakers, we can do this!''

''We.'' As if I had a thing to do with it.

Point being, I love my team as much as anybody. Sport enriches my life. But libraries feed my soul. And sometimes I watch that water dripping down and wonder: Does anybody care? We say that learning matters, but do we mean it?

Months ago, when Mr. Modell decided to move his team to Baltimore, it was sensational news. Fans rallied, columnists railed, negotiators huddled, reporters reported and officials made fiery speeches.

Would they do that if a library was about to shut down?

''Strength of the community''

Actually . . . yes, according to Judy Cooper at my local library. She says, ''When politicians start to talk about closing libraries, all hell breaks loose. The library is like the fire station, the police station. It's really . . . the strength of the community.''

That's what it boils down to, isn't it? Community. My block, your block, and the quality and continuity of life therein. It's heartening to think she might be right, that we haven't completely lost our minds after all.

Of course, Art Modell believes we have. He believes our priorities are upside down like his. He believes his game matters more than our libraries. I believe Art Modell contains sufficient fertilizer to keep Central Park green for a year.

''The pride and the presence of a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries?!?''

''If that is Mr. Modell's mentality,'' says William Urbizu, assistant director of the Miami-Dade Public Library System, ''then I'm sure he would be very proud and pleased to fill his stadium with illiterate fans who would be unable to read the scoreboard or his team's program book.''

I'm with him. I'd rather live in a place with no team than one with no books. A library is a place to shape tomorrow, to climb the fertile hills of your own imagination and glimpse horizons beyond your own. It is a jumping-off point for journeys past wonder.

There are no cheerleaders for readers, no front-page pictures, no dance in the end zone. In a world obsessed with the external and the extraneous, reading is something we do to build the internal and the essential.

And that matters to me, because I believe in the long run and I believe that, in the long run, what you feed your soul determines who you become. That matters a hell of a lot more than any game.

''The pride and the presence of a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries.''

Spoken like a man who hasn't spent nearly enough time in libraries.

B6 Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Pub Date: 8/30/96

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