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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Sports Subsidizing

It is spreading like a plague throughout the country. Fat cat sports corporations are threatening to leave cities, which subsidized them to come in the first place, unless city and state governments raise still more tax dollars to keep them there and build a new arena or stadium ringed with skyboxes for corporate bigwigs and their customers.

On March 18, 1997, both The Birmingham News and The Charlotte Observer newspapers reported stories that showed the limitless greed of profit-glutted professional sports and other companies.

The Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) are demanding that the city of Charlotte fork up $50 million for its share of a new uptown arena. City manager, Pam Syfert recommended $26 million from taxpayers. The Hornets want almost all the revenues from the arena (food, drink, buttons, pennants, t-shirts, etc.) and also want the city to own the structure so that they can avoid paying property taxes.

On the same page one, the Charlotte Observer reported that due to the tight local educational budget, Superintendent Eric Smith has decided to eliminate band and orchestra, as well as foreign language instruction, in the elementary schools in order to save $1.5 million annually. “We’ve made a tremendous mistake in diminishing or eliminating art, music and dance as fluff or frills,” says Brown University President, Vartan Gregorian in a recent issue of Parade magazine, adding that “the arts allow children to develop creativity and imagination.”

You don’t understand, Mr. Gregorian. The Hornets need the money and don’t care about taking violins, cellos and violas from fifth-graders. The Hornets say they need a new stadium, though the existing Coliseum is in good shape. The Hornets refuse to pay any rent on the new arena and insist that the city come up with millions more in tax dollars for building and maintaining the new facility.

If the City is going along with such a sting, why not demand an ownership share in the team to head off future extortions. You won’t see the Green Bay Packers demanding big tax dollars or else they’re moving. The Packers are locally owned.

Or let’s say Charlotte wants to spend the money on sports. Why not build or expand ball fields, basketball gyms and other sports facilities for youngsters and adults who want to get their bodies in shape and have some good old fashioned fun? Most cities have grossly inadequate athletic outlets for both young people and adults.

In Birmingham, two pollution stories made page one of the Metro section. One reports a state legislator’s proposal, coming from corporate lobbies, to immunize polluters from having their internal inspection data and reports be subject to disclosure in civil, criminal or administrative proceedings. This idea has passed in about 10 states and is called the “environmental audit privilege.”

Corporations are now demanding the same privileges as the doctor-patient or the clergy-parishioner, or the husband-wife privilege under the law. After all, corporations say they are “persons” too.

The polluters’ privilege to hide internal documents is a corporate defense lawyer’s dream. You are exposed to deadly toxics, you or your attorney general sue the polluting company and the company can withhold anything it calls a self-audit of its pollution violations or emissions. This is taking corporate perpetrators of water, air and soil poisoning to levels of immunity that place them above much law enforcement.

On the same page, Birmingham school officials cannot seem to find the resources to deal with peeling paint laced with lead on the walls and ceilings of its schools. One principal said “I don’t have any tarpaulins out to cover up the furniture. I’ve been promised too many times.” A proposal to further shield polluters from law and order; a school system unable to protect its children from a well-documented peril to their bodies and brains.

Read the papers, folks; there is more than enough for you to make the connections and the contrasts to conclude that large corporations are taking over our country while they move above the law. It matters that you make some demands of your own, whether as parents, taxpayers, voters or workers.