Maybe the debate about the Sonics is over, but the recent effort to retain the franchise is worth examining. It was leadership more focused on image building than on investing money in a true civic need.
Had our leadership and prominent citizens conjured up a scheme to pour tax dollars and civic effort into improving our school system or investing in decaying infrastructure, we could at least believe we were doing our part when we eat out, knowing the tax thus raised was for a worthwhile cause. But indirectly subsidizing outrageously overpaid athletes doesn't go down as enjoyable desert.
Professional athletes are the first to acknowledge that big-time sports is a business. On their level, it's competitive and often ruthless. If you don't get hurt or don't perform, that's it. No charity! It's all about money. Professional sports is also exciting and unquestionably great entertainment.
One can make a convincing argument that professional sports aren't critical for a city to have national or international recognition. In fact, you can rattle off the names of a dozen other world class cities and never hear the name of one of their sports teams. We never hear much about the Paris Buccaneers, or the Rome hoopsters, or the London Fuzz. They don't exist.
The Sonics traded one of their best and most highly paid players. He earned in two games what a Seattle teacher is paid in a whole year. He was not only an outstanding and exciting player to watch but an outstanding individual, as well. Paying to watch him play is what professional sports is all about. He entertains us. But it isn't the job of a person who buys a bowl of soup for lunch to subsidize the Sonic organization, whose multimillion-dollar payroll puts them on the civic dole.
The NBA claims the teams can't pay for their own arenas. If they are businesses, as they claim, then they should do what all other businesses do – cut the overhead and salaries to pay for the place where they work.
When the hotel/motel/restaurant tax has completed the job of paying for stadiums, then it should sunset as promised. If we and our leadership choose to extend it, then that use must accomplish something of value. Something we really need.
At a time when our nation is in economic distress and the cost of getting to a job or buying food or paying the mortgage is becoming much harder, let's at least tax for something worthwhile.
How about cleaning up Puget Sound or building a plant that converts Seattle's garbage into usable electric energy, instead wasting the fuel shipping it to Eastern Oregon by train? Or maybe we can fix our bridges or aging infrastructure.
A recent episode of 60 Minutes stunned America by showing what could be done to provide free medical attention to the countless uninsured. Called Remote Area Medical, it serves hundreds of people every week who stand in line to have teeth fixed or get their vision back or have a broken arm set. Started by just one man with vision, it has grown into a model every city could use.
Let's press our leaders to make a distinction between a game and a civic responsibility. Isn't it their job to set priorities that identify essential uses for tax dollars? It isn't essential we bankroll sports franchises that want to hold us hostage.