Living on the Edge

The ground breaking for the new Minnesota Twins baseball stadium was scheduled only forty-eight hours after the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. Naturally, it was cancelled. It would be unseemly to highlight the fact that the government of Minnesota had found a half-billion dollars to build a new ball park, but no money to repair the I-35W bridge.

Featured Speaker David Zirin took the Rising Tide 2 crowd on a whirlwind tour of the disfunction of a system that has spent 16 billion dollars in recent years on stadiums for a handful of the wealthiest men in America while the rest of our infrastructure--including our levees--collapse about us.

Zirin is a sports columnist, but one that comes at what sports has become--what he calls the Athletic Industrial Complex--as both a filter though which we view society and a reflection of what our priorities have become. He was invited partly because his latest book, Welcome to the Terrordome, opens with an examination of the Superdome as shelter from hell for people who could not afford a Saint's game ticket, and ends questioning the priorities of a nation that first rebuilds it stadiums while a city lays in ruin all around it.

I would disagree with him to some extent, and regret that while speaking to him during lunch I didn't raise the issue. The Saints were a god send to this city last Fall, the only group of people in a position of prominence who demonstrated the competence and spirit lacking from all of the rest of our leadership.

His speech was a rollicking romp through much of what's wrong with society as reflected in the glass eye of ESPN and our other focii of sports. Read his book, and catch him speaking somewhere if you can. Sports is one of the things that makes us Americans, that links us together in a time where we increasingly have no common experience. If we do not listen to voice likes his, there is scant hope for the future of this nation.

Check out his on-line column at www.edgeofsports.com


  1. Very evocative post, Mark. Prior to 8/29, state funding for remodeling the Superdome seemed to me the height of folly, considering how lacking the city's infrastructure. Ironically, Katrina changed that paradigm for us. Alexander Wolff, writing for Sports Illustrated about the second anniversary of Katrina, mentioned the struggles of Doug and Denise Thornton, among them Doug's intense desire to see the Superdome rebuilt versus Denise's belief that fixing a stadium when so many important things lay in ruins speaks volumes about the wars that take place inside us post-K. Ultimately, Denise came around to Doug's way of thinking, as perhaps did you and I. See the article at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/alexander_wolff/08/21/katrina0827/index.html

    Best regards,

  2. The whole stadium building thing is not just a reflection of societal priorities. It's a reflection of institutional constraints and incentives. To be more specific, it's in part an outcome of devolution of power, from the federal to the state levels, which occurred simultaneously with the use of block grants that give states greater control over monies in certain broad categories (social services, transportation, community development, e.g.).

    And what are state priorities going to be, even in areas with traditionally higher rates of spending on social welfare programs, such as Minnesota? A major one is going to be economic development, which will take priority over social welfare programs by virtue of the fact that the state believes it must be competitive with other states, that it's a do-or-die thing. Minnesota also bid in an absurdly big way on the Saturn plant that went to Tennessee, if you'll recall. The incentives are against state, not to mention local, involvement in any broader urban policy.

    The federal govt. is best situated to institute such a broader urban policy. But the perception that the Great Society programs were a total failure (an idea reinforced by several recent presidents and countless lawmakers, when in reality that legacy was more mixed, and many of its programs are still with us in one form or another) keeps Congress from playing this role.