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Merritt-ocracy: The Paulson Sporting Doctrine
Dave Zirin
In the United States, politicians drill into our heads that there is no money for healthcare, no money for infrastructure and no money for schools. But thanks to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, we now know that there is cash aplenty for bailing out his brethren on Wall Street. It's bizarro-world Marxism, where the workers own the banks until they are restored to profitability. Socialize debt and privatize profit: call it the Paulson doctrine. Like father, like son. Meet Merritt Paulson, the offspring of Henry Paulson. I suppose naming his child "Legacy" would have been too blunt. The 35-year-old Merritt owns the Portland Beavers, a minor-league baseball team, and the Portland Timbers, a USL First Division soccer squad. While his father is demanding $700 billion of our money to bail out the banks, Merritt wants his own little piece of our hide. He is insisting upon $85 million in public funds from the city of Portland to build a new sports complex for the Beavers and an upgrade on the Timbers' stadium. Merritt is not the sole owner of the Beavers and Timbers; he has only an 80 percent stake. The man with the 20 percent stake is his father, Hammerin' Hank. If you can keep the bile out of your throat for a moment, you have got to give the Paulson family credit for cheek. You can almost imagine the scene: the Paulsons sitting around the dinner table, munching on bald eagle pate, ruminating on their $700 billion credit line and saying, "What's $85 million more?" We haven't seen a family of rustlers like this since Frank and Jesse James. Keep in mind that Hank Paulson is worth $700 million on his own (he just loves that 700 number). So forget the obscenity of any sports owner having the temerity to ask for public funds for a sports stadium at a time when we are collectively bailing out the nation's banks. Forget the lunacy of making the case for $85 million from a city that, despite its lush rose gardens and micro-breweries, has 16 percent of kids living below the poverty line. Forget all humanitarian and economic considerations. The fact is that the cash between the cushions at the Paulson family compound could pay for the new stadium in Portland and yet Merritt wants more. These aren't masters of industry. They're grifters. Merritt Paulson has laid the groundwork for this budget grab by trying to present himself, in the best liberal Portland tradition, as a community-minded idealist with a belief in local responsibility. (This is a city where even the airport can only have stores that are local businesses... although one of those "local" businesses is Nike.) In an interview with Biz of Baseball, Merritt said, "I think sports is such a unique vehicle in terms of being able to shine light on areas of the community that could use the help. It's something that everybody relates to. I think that players getting out and making appearances and using the media attention that follows them to really focus on areas that could use a lot of public support--that's terrific, and it's not all about money." He also, as the glowing puff piece made clear, gave $10,000 to the local little league. This is a very modest investment if you have $85 million in public funds as an ultimate goal. Of course, Merritt makes the case that such a public expenditure would be economic steroids for the community. But that's not holding water, not even with diehard local fans. As Jules Boykoff, a professor at Pacific University, former pro soccer player, and a big Portland Timbers fanatic who brings his 6-year-old daughter to the games, wrote in The Oregonian: "More jobs? Economic development? Sounds great! The only problem is that it's not true. Recently, sports economists Dennis Coates (University of Maryland) and Brad R. Humphreys (University of Alberta) carried out research asking whether cities that built new stadiums to entice professional sports teams experienced a boost in the local economy. In their study--which spanned nearly thirty years and examined almost forty attempts to lure teams--they couldn't find a single example of a sports franchise jump-starting the local economy....This plea comes from someone who loves soccer: I played college ball at the University of Portland, professionally for the Portland Pride and was fortunate enough to play on the US Olympic team in international competition. And I would love for Major League Soccer to come to Portland. But it's unfair to have working people and their families pay for the venture when the already cloudy economic future is anything but a sure bet. If Merritt Paulson's affection for Portland is real--and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that it is--it's time for him to step up and put his money where his mouth is. Should he do so...my daughter and I will be the first in line to buy season tickets." I think there are many others like Boykoff who will happily support their local sports teams but don't want to feel like suckers in the bargain. Economic times are rough. Working people across the country are being forced to step up to save this system. It's time for Merritt Paulson to do the same. [Dave Zirin is the author of "A People's History of Sports in the United States" (The New Press) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]







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