Ravens win signals time to look past low points

This Just In...

January 15, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

TO GET TO THE state of euphoria, we sometimes must pass through the state of denial. That's how it is with a lot of things in life, especially professional sports. You have to look past so much that is appalling and depressing to enjoy what's exciting and inspiring. Some people can't do it. Here, for example, is what a Baltimore sports fan - we'll call him Jaded Jeff - had to say before yesterday's American Football Conference championship: "Too bad the Ravens and Raiders can't both lose."

He refers to the fact that both teams are owned by men - the Raiders by Al Davis, the Ravens by Art Modell - who moved their franchises out of cities that had supported them for years. "If Davis hadn't taken the NFL to court to leave Oakland [in 1982, for Los Angeles, for about a dozen seasons] without its permission," Jaded Jeff points out, "the Colts would never have been able to bug out of here! Or the Rams out of Los Angeles, the Cardinals out of St. Louis, the Oilers out of Houston - or the Browns out of Cleveland! Don't defense lawyers call illegally obtained evidence `the fruit of the poisoned tree'? That's what the Ravens are, and I ain't eating."

Well, good morning, sunshine!

To a guy like this a lot of us say: Get over it, pal.

And others agree with him, but we go right on rooting for the Ravens and buying their merchandise. We're happy the team made it to the Super Bowl, and try to keep all that other stuff - the moving of teams, personal seat licenses, ticket prices, the epidemic of corporate names on stadiums, huge player contracts - out of mind. You have to, or none of this will ever be fun.

It wasn't always this hard.

Most 20th-century sports fans didn't think of sports franchises as businesses in the conventional sense, and they did not view themselves as clients. They saw sports arenas as escapes from the rat race. A ballpark or football stadium represented some green, clean ideal, free of the soil of industrialism and crass consumerism.

Today, ever-expanding commercialism has changed the nature of the fan's connection to professional sports; a lot of Jaded Jeffs are out there. And while that seems to be an uncomfortable reality we have to accept, there's one aspect of it that major sports franchises could reject in the interest of preserving something money cannot buy - a team's enduring connection to a people and a place.

They could do away with corporate names on their stadiums, ballparks and arenas. Those who have already done it could undo it; those who might be tempted, like the Baltimore Orioles, should resist.

Like a lot of people, I've been appalled by this trend. The Baltimore Ravens, based in You-Know-What-Net Stadium, beat the Oakland Raiders yesterday in Network Associates Stadium, which used to be called simply Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Sports arenas are special public places that should reflect a community's identity and its history. In the long term, the selling of a stadium's name to the highest corporate bidder further alienates average fans from the game and undercuts the senses of community and place a stadium with a more meaningful name gives.

Josh Boyd, assistant professor of communications at Purdue University in Indiana, published a compelling argument against corporate stadium names in the November edition of the Journal of Applied Communication Research. His essay, "Selling Home: Corporate Stadium Names and the Destruction of Commemoration," lays out nicely what's at stake.

"With corporate names emblazoned all over stadiums and sports arenas across the United States, [the] mythic vision of sport as an important, pure, pastoral, cultural leisure activity, rather than just another business, is being shattered," Boyd writes.

He calls sports stadiums and arenas "memory places." Their names make a profound and stabilizing statement about the identity of the city and the fans. "When corporate sponsors replace commemorative names, the tenuous relationships among teams, fans and cities are threatened."

The tradition of stadium and arena names splits along three lines. Some were named for the teams that use them (Yankee Stadium, Oriole Park); some made a statement about the city where they stand (Riverfront, Mile High); some are named for people who were important to a community or the franchise (Shea, Turner).

The corporate name trend has given us Comerica Park (instead of Tiger Stadium), 3Com Park (instead of Candlestick), and Qualcomm Stadium (instead of Jack Murphy Stadium). The Boston Globe reports the possibility that the name of the new Fenway Park will be sold to Polaroid or something called EMC.

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