The Tweet The Gophers’ Coach Should Have Sent

When University of Minnesota football players boycotted practice because they didn’t approve of how fellow players were being treated by the University during a sexual assault investigation, head football coach Tracy Claeys took to Twitter to praise them lavishly:

“Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world.”

cursor_and_sexual_assault_university_of_minnesota_-_google_searchThere were a lot of problems with that tweet. Coach Claeys presumably didn’t have all the facts, yet, by making the “better world,” comment, he seemed to be siding with the accused over the accuser.  He was publicly crossing his bosses, University Athletic Director Mark Coyle and President Eric Kaler, who did have the facts.  Importantly, he expressed no concern about the seriousness of an extremely disturbing allegation.

Both in terms of football and morals, Claeys was following his players instead of leading them. A strong moral and football leader have tweeted something more like this to the community and these emotional young men:

“Until we learn the facts about these disturbing allegations, we’re going to be students & players, not administrators. Back to practice men.”

Don’t take sides on the investigation.  Don’t side with the accused over the accuser, or vice versa.  Don’t undermine your bosses facing a difficult decision.  Don’t allow your players to dictate when they will and won’t choose to practice or play.

If Coach Claeys would have chosen something like those 140 characters to lead instead of follow, he would have had some young men angry at him.  That happens to leaders.  But he would have taught his young players and the rest of the student body an important lesson about how to act and lead during a time of uncertainty.  He would still have the respect of his university and community. He would still have a chance to rebuild the reputation of the program that was so badly damaged by his entitled players.

But Coach Claeys chose a very different 140 characters on Twitter, and the characters he chose prove that he is not the right person for that very difficult job.  For that, he has no one to blame but himself.

Is Zygi Claus As Generous As Local News Coverage Makes Him Out To Be?

zygi_wilf_shovel

Billionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is Minnesota’s Santa Claus. That’s essentially the message local news and sports coverage has hammered into Minnesotans’ heads over the last couple of years.

There has been a steady string of positive headlines promoting the Wilf’s stadium-related generosity: Twin Cities Business magazine: “Wilfs Commit $19.5 million More to New Vikings Stadium.”  Minnesota Public Radio:  “Vikings add 19.7 million to stadium contribution.”  WCCO-TV:  “Vikings, Wilfs To Commit to Additional $14M To New Stadium.”  The Saint Paul Pioneer Press:  “Vikings’ Zygi Wilf to increase stadium contribution.”  The Star Tribune:  “Vikings pony up $49 million for stadium accessories.”

Legendary Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman regularly preaches about how fortunate we Minnesotans are to have the Wilfs lavishing us with additional stadium-related toys out of the goodness of their hearts.  For instance, under the homer headline “Vikings Stadium Will Be Spectacular,” a typical Hartman column tells Minnesotans to “take your hat off to the Wilf family,” and then essentially turns his column over to Vikings executive Lester Bagley’s pro-Wilf spin:

“The Wilf family has put in an additional $95 million since the bill passed the Legislature, because a lot of teams and communities get to this point and they start to cut things [and] we don’t want to cut things. We want to add things and make sure this is the best stadium in the league.

The Legislature had us agree to $477 million in team/private dollars and since the bill passed, on top of that $477 million, the Wilfs have agreed to contribute an additional $95 million and counting.”

In addition to his newspaper columns, Mr. Hartman even more frequently carries the same kind of Wilf cheerleading to the powerful radio airwaves of WCCO-AM.  KFAN-FM and 1500-ESPN also do their fair share to promote Zygi’s stadium contributions to their listeners.

The cumulative effect of all of this has been to paint a portrait of jolly old Zygi Claus and Lester the Elf continually delivering millions of dollars of new stadium toys to Minnesota’s football loving girls and boys.

I don’t blame reporters for those headlines.  The budget increases happened, and reporters need to cover developments like that. Moreover, I’m glad that the Wilfs are paying the extra costs.  It’s better than the alternative.

But as Mr. Wilf prepares to cut the ribbon for his new business asset later this summer, and have even more adoration heaped upon him by Mr. Hartman and others, it’s important to look at the broader context.

Others Paying “Owner’s Share”

Remember that the owner has had lots of help paying the so-called “owner’s share” of the stadium. The Vikings are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from a number of outside sources, such as a NFL loan program, seat licenses paid by fans, and enormous naming rights payments coming from U.S. Bank customers.  As Minnesota Public Radio reported:

“If the team gets the NFL loan, sells naming rights and charges for personal seat licenses according to these estimates, it would have about $115 million of the original $427 million pledge yet to pay. Compared to the upfront price tag on the stadium of $975 million, the amount left is about 12 cents on the dollar.”

Note that this April 2012 MPR analysis was done prior to the Wilf’s increasing their stadium contributions by an additional $95 million or so.   It also was done without solid numbers related to these three types of funding sources.

But details aside, the larger point remains:  What the owner is actually paying is only a small fraction of what is described in news coverage as “the owner’s share.”

Star Tribune sports columnist and 1500ESPN radio analyst Patrick Reusse also wrote an excellent 1500ESPN blog post asserting that about $450 million of the Wilf’s share will be paid by someone other than the Wilfs.  Reusse’s analysis was titled “Quite a Bonanza For Our Stadium Martyr.”  However, the radio station appears to have removed the post.

“Worst Deal From Sports Team”

Mr. Wilf is the generous one?  Really?  Minnesota taxpayers are bearing a heavy burden for the stadium, because the Wilfs insisted on it, during a decade worth of legislative warfare.  In naming the Twin Cities one of “5 cities getting the worst deals from sports teams,” MarketWatch asks:

“How do you get taxpayers to chip in $500 million on a more than $1 billion stadium when only one city, Indianapolis ($620 million), has ever paid that much?”

MarketWatch also notes that Minneapolitans “will end up paying $678 million over its 30-year payment plan once interest, operations and construction costs are factored in.”

I’m not informed enough about every stadium deal in the nation to say whether MarketWatch is correct that Minnesotans got one of the worst deals ever.  But it is important to understand that Minnesota taxpayers are being extraordinarily generous to the Vikings owners, not the other way around.

Wilfs Are Takers, Not Givers

By any reasonable analysis, the Wilfs are the big takers in this scenario.  They are not, as much of the news and sports coverage has implied or asserted, the big givers.  After all, this luxurious new taxpayer subsidized stadium won’t make taxpayers’ wealthier, but it is already making the Wilf’s much wealthier.

Forbes magazine estimates that the Vikings franchise, which reportedly was purchased by the Wilfs for about $600 million in 2005, was worth $796 million in 2011, the year before the stadium subsidy was approved.  By 2015, after the taxpayer subsidy was approved by the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Dayton, Forbes estimates the value of the Wilf’s business had spiked to $1.59 billion.

That’s a remarkably quick appreciation going to Zygi Claus’s bottom line in the post-stadium approval era.  Add what the owners will be pocketing due to large increases in stadium-related revenue in the coming years, and it’s pretty clear that the Wilfs are making out like bandits.

Precise analysis is pretty much impossible on this subject, because executives are not nearly as forthcoming about details related to the loan, seat licenses and naming rights as they are about contributions. However, this is roughly what it looks like to me:  Zygi Claus is investing something in the neighborhood of $200 million to see his business valuation increase by at least $800 million, and probably quite a bit more over time.

None of this is illegal, or all that unusual.  But it also is not Santa Claus.

Saunders Center

Imagine a world in which our communities still used tax dollars to honor heroes, instead of honchos, where we valued the highest character over the highest bidder.

In that world, our most expensive publicly financed buildings would be named after respected leaders like Hubert H. Humphrey, Bud Grant, Herb Brooks and soldiers, instead of mega-corporations like U.S. Bank, TCF Bank, Xcel, CHS and Target Corporation. In that world, our public assets wouldn’t be sullied by excessive amounts of gaudy corporate graffiti.

Flip_Saunders_Arena

In that world, the Minnesota Timberwolves might soon be playing in a newly renovated Flip Saunders Center, giving the City-owned home court so much more of a sense of history, character, community, heart and soul than it has as Target’s Center.

Loveland

Where Are All Of Minneapolis’s Dead Birds?

By my count, the 35 tallest buildings in Minneapolis have about 1,200 stories, and all of them have a lot of windows, if not solid glass walls.   That’s a lot of glass.

minneapolis_skyline

Vikings_stadiumThe new Minnesota Vikings Stadium will be 30-stories at its highest point, and it has glass walls on part of it.   Therefore, bird advocates warn Minnesotans that the new stadium is going to be responsible for the death of about 1,000 birds per year, even with the lights turned off at night. So, they are demanding that the Vikings owners pay for polka dot windows, which apparently mitigates the birdocide, but is less beautiful to the Wilfs.

If that’s true, why don’t Minneapolitans currently see tens of thousands of dead birds lying around their glassy city?  That many bird corpses would be difficult to miss.  I’m very open to the possibility that this is simplistic thinking, but can someone explain where all the dead birds are?

Viking Coach Priefer Still Doesn’t Get It

Mike_Priefer_nuke_gaysEveryone makes mistakes, but the key is to learn the right lesson from the mistake and move on.  That’s the message being stressed by the Minnesota Vikings leadership in the wake of discovering that their Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer had been lying to them about making breathtakingly ugly anti-gay remarks in an attempt to stop punter Chris Kluwe from championing gay rights off-the-field.

That’s a good message.  Yesterday we learned that Coach Priefer is all about the “move on” part of that message.  But the “learn the right lesson” part?  Not so much.

Priefer did appear to learn some lessons:  If you lie, you might get caught.  And if you lie and get caught, that can embarrass you, your family and your team.

Those are lessons all right.  But are they truly the most important lessons?

Coach Priefer was given the golden opportunity at the news conference to prove that he had learned the most important lessons.  As the Star Tribune reported:

Priefer got emotional when asked what he regretted most about what transpired between him and Kluwe.

The biggest thing I regret is I brought a lot of bad publicity to the Minnesota Vikings and I felt like I let my family down,” Priefer said, choking up as he finished his sentence.

Wrong answer, Coach.

When you say that we should round up a group of human beings, put them on an island to be murdered, your biggest regret should not be that the remark created embarrassing publicity.  Your biggest regret should be that you said something unbelievably hateful and hurtful about your fellow man.  You should regret that you infected the world with verbal violence that, intended or not, really does feed and rationalize actual violence against gays and lesbians.   You should regret that you stood in the way of the cause of equality and freedom of speech when you bullied an employee who championed those uniquely American values.

Those are the right lessons, the more meaningful lessons.

Coach Priefer clearly still thinks everything is all about football.  Human rights?  Sure, whatever.  Hate speech feeding hate crimes?  Shrug.  Freedom of speech?  Whatever.  No, Mike regrets that he got caught slamming Kluwe and the gays because it created a distraction from football and an embarrassment to his football organization.  Football, football, football.

I hope someone is dreaming up an industrial strength sensitivity class for this guy, because it is going to take one kick ass class for him to get it.  In that class, they need to show Priefer how many morons with heads full of Priefer-esque “jokes” humiliate, maim and kill people, solely because of who they love.  They need to show examples of how power-drunk employers throughout history have punished African Americans, women, workers’ rights champions and others courageous enough to stand up for American values.

I also hope they line up a management class for Priefer’s boss, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer who told the Pioneer Press:

“I’ve had a chance to visit with Mike Priefer on numerous occasions, almost every single day, to find out what kind of person he is,” Zimmer said. “I knew his father. I know what kind of family guy he is. He made a mistake. So I just go by what I see; I don’t go by what I hear.”

“I just go by what I see, not by what I hear.”  Are you serious?  This guy just repeatedly lied to you, and you’re still saying that you  just go by what you see when you look at the guy and his background?

With that kind of attitude, Coach Zimmer is poised to sweep all kinds of future personnel problems under the rug.  Allegations of sexual violence, domestic abuse, or criminal activity?  “I just go by what I see, not by what I hear about those allegations, and I don’t see a rapist when I look him in the eye.”

The Vikings organization’s words and actions show that it looks upon Priefer’s “nuke the gays” remark as a PR embarrassment, and little more.  Make it go away with some obligatory spin. But they need to take off their football goggles for a brief second to learn the truly important lessons stemming from this ugly episode.

– Loveland

What Chris Kluwe Should Be Saying

chris_kluweChris Kluwe, the former Minnesota Vikings punter who has been blowing the whistle about Vikings speical teams coach Mike Priefer’s anti-gay remarks, could use some PR help. I’m a PR guy, so I can’t help but want to put words into people’s mouths. These are the words I would advise Kluwe to speak today:

 It’s time for me to shut up. Those who know me know that’s not easy for me. But upon reflection, I’ve decided it’s time.

First, I need to do what I urged Coach Priefer to do when he did something ugly. I want to admit I was wrong and apologize.

I was a moron when I pulled an immature locker room stunt that made light of people being raped by a coach at Penn State. I wasn’t threatening an employee for speaking out about civil rights or advocating violence against a class of people, but I was very wrong in a different kind of way.   I was seeking laughs, but I was doing it at the expense of innocent victims. At the time, I thought I was joking, but it obviously looks very different through victims’ eyes, and I should have realized that. That was wrong, and I sincerely apologize.

It’s also time for me to shut up about Coach Priefer.

I achieved what I most wanted to achieve when I started speaking out against my coach’s anti-gay remarks. I got the truth out, an important piece of it anyway. I’m very proud of that, and that made this all worth the effort. After repeatedly denying it for months, Coach Priefer corroborated my story that he said gays should be rounded up and nuked.

It was gratifying to hear Coach Priefer say that I was not lying, as he had accused me of doing. It was much more gratifying to hear him say that he was wrong to say those hateful things. I sincerely hope he means it, and I hope the training he takes about gay people truly changes his heart.

There are still things I don’t understand about this whole situation. I don’t understand why the Vikings don’t release the whole truth, the full investigative report.   I will never understand that. Truth heals, and covering up the truth causes festering.

I also don’t understand why the Wilf’s sanction isn’t commensurate with the transgression — a boss using violent, hateful speech about a whole class of human beings, and threatening his employee for advocating for civil rights. If Coach Priefer had said the same things about African Americans, or other minority groups,  the punishment obviously would have been much heavier. That makes me think the Vikings don’t give gays and lesbians the same level of respect they give others. That is wrong.

Finally, I don’t understand why the Vikings would release a punter who, according to the statistics, was the best in team history. I don’t understand why they would do this at a time when I was doing everything the coach asked me to do for the sake of the team, including punting shorter and higher, which helped the coverage teams and hurt the statistics upon which I am judged.

I know that money and age are always part of player retention decisions in the NFL, but I also know that my championing of civil rights also was part of that decision.  I know this because Coach Priefer said publicly that “Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you.”  No employee should ever be punished by an employer for  speaking out in favor of civil rights.

I knew I would never get my job back. I knew I would never get lost salary, because any money I would have won was promised to LGBT rights groups. But I was still tempted to sue, because I was worried that my employer’s firing of me for speaking out would stifle other NFL players from speaking out for what they feels is right. I still worry about that a lot.

The Vikings are dead wrong about those things. But I’ve decided not to file a lawsuit after all. I got the truth out, and that was my top priority. I hope we all learn the right lessons from this whole ugly chapter. Onward.

Mr. Kluwe is not going to convince the court that age, performance and salary weren’t also part of the Vikings’ decision to release him, so he should reclaim the one thing that is still available to him — the high road.

– Loveland

Photo credit:   Sophia Hantzes, Lavender magazine.

Minneapolis Stepping On It’s Applause Line

Betsy_Hodges_begs_for_applauseSo Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is directing Minneapolitan social media mavens to tweet on over to #bragmpls to brag about Minneapolis, and run down other cities.

 “When you go to their cities,” she joked, “talk about how disappointing they are compared to Minneapolis.”

I can hear it now.

“Yeah, New York City is nice and all, but frankly Central Park is a little disappointing compared to The Yard.”

“Chicago? I hate to be mean, but I was a little disappointed that the architecture was all so old, kind of like Minneapolis had before we had the good sense to demolish it, and replace with a fresh 1970s look.”

“San Francisco, meh. I looked everywhere to find a Culver’s, but was sooooo disappointed to learn that they haven’t arrived there yet. I couldn’t wait to get home.”

Okay, I acknowledge Mayor Hodges was making a joke when she talked about expressing disappointment in other cities.  Still, the hashtag cheerleading campaign is no joke to Mayor Hodges and her public relations team.   And to me, her public begging for hashtags is a wee bit #pathetic.

Of all of the contrived things about contemporary professional sports stage management, nothing is more inauthentic than the Jumbotron exhortations for fans to “Make Some Noise!” The piped-in artificial rhythmic clapping and the mind-numbingly chirpy D.J. Casper song “Everybody Clap Your Hands” fall into the same category.   Inevitably these perky little pick-me-ups come when the bats are silent, the defense is porous, and the hometown ownership is starting to worry about meeting its beer sales targets.

But here’s the thing: Minneapolis’s bats are not silent.

rainbow_all_star_gameIn fact, Minneapolis is kicking some serious ass right now. Two new mega-expensive LRT lines are flowing through Minneapolis, and a third appears to be on the way. An iconic billion dollar football palace is rising out of the ground to replace the embarrassing  Metrodome. The metro area has the lowest unemployment of any metro area in the nation. Minnesota has the second lowest uninsured rate in the nation. The city’s population is growing, driven by a remarkable residential housing boom in the downtown area.  The Super Bowl, the most visible sporting event in America, is coming.  And baseball fans from around the world are watching professional baseball’s All Star Game in one of the best ballparks in the world, with a rainbow framing it, right here in our Minnie Apple.

The applause is happening organically. So turning on the flashing “Applause!” sign and publicly waving the mayoral pom poms in the midst of genuine, unprompted applause constitutes stepping on your own applause line.   Methinks we’re trying just a little too hard.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured on MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

The Strib boldly goes … .

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterTo give credit where credit is rarely due, I must say I read Mike Kaszuba and Rochelle Olson’s Sunday piece on the beyond-parody list of freebies and concierge services the NFL demands of its Super Bowl host cities and had a hard time stifling my amazement. Not that the NFL demands/”requests” for stuff like police escorts for team owners who have already had special clearance to land their private jets at local airports … I fully assumed that … the surprise was that the Star Tribune ran the story on 1A.

While the scoop of a reporter actually getting his/her paws on the … 153-page … document wherein one of the most lucrative commercial enterprises in America sets down in writing exactly how it expects to be treated like a preening Kardashian was far to juicy to ignore, I will argue that a year ago, the Strib would have conceived a rationale for tucking it away from the heavy traffic. The paper, certainly its opinion page, really has been that obvious a shill for the NFL for that long.

There’s a very revealing, amusing tell-all e-book in some Strib insider’s account of the myriad ways the paper failed the basic rules of journalistic skepticism in its sustained campaign for the lop-sided stadium contract with which taxpayers are now ladened. This would include, for example, why the sharpest criticism of the deal voiced by veteran sports writer Pat Reusse — a bona fide opinion leader for the sad rubes bowing in front of Zygi Wilf — appeared not in the Strib, but in his blog at KSTP radio.

I’ll say what I’ve said before (and often), we — the whole damned country — are chumps for the NFL, excuse me, the non-profit NFL. The mix of martial combat, brute machismo and show biz mythologizing makes for an irresistible marketing package. Which is fine. In America everyone’s got something to sell. But what a newspaper like the Star Tribune is supposed to be selling is skepticism, among other vital virtues.

The sports culture’s radio and TV front men, the jocks and sports anchors, have a clear vested interest in boosting/shilling for the fundamental assets of the home team. While cranks like me might admire them more if they made a full-throated, common sense argument against the NFL’s “standard” financing package for these extravagant stadiums, I get that they’re basically publicity agents for the local teams and the league. For them there is no financial upside to quarreling with how the NFL chooses to do business.

But people who regularly lay claim to being “hard-nosed”, “bulldog” reporters have no excuse for running as little contradictory information about the stadium contract as the Strib did during the long, long legislative negotiating saga.

As I say, the opinion page’s drumbeat support, as appalling as it was to people like me who saw so little effort made to deviate from that “standard” financing model — one that always includes the threat of moving the beloved local team to Los Angeles, (a move that would cost the other 31 financially-adroit owners a hell of a lot of money in comparison to carving up a likely $1 billion fee for creating an entirely new team there) — was not surprising. The publishers and owners of enterprises as large as the Strib think of themselves as peers to team owners, and like the NFL plutocracy are generally familiar with the myriad benefits of tax and taxpayer manipulation.

The question for the Strib of this generation is this: In the context of the Vikings stadium saga, who in the newsroom is prepared to publicly assert that the firewall between the publisher’s financial interests and the newsroom’s journalistic instincts was never breached? That in no way were editorial responsibilities in this very expensive matter obstructed or diluted as a result of influence from the executive suites?

Finally, to Kaszuba and Olson … nice work.

But as Columbo used to say, “There’s just one little thing that bothers me.”

In the course of laying out all the freebies the NFL demands — the police escorts, the free parking, the deleted taxes, the NFL channel in official hotels, the 180-person, all-expenses-paid junket — would it have been too much to drop in one short line about how all these niggling perks are to the benefit of … some of the richest human beings on the planet? Truly the .1% of the 1%ers?

I know, I know, that would be “editorializing”, an unforgivable cardinal sin of serious journalism. But it would have put things in a perspective the average subscriber might better understand.

– Brian Lambert

Super Bowl Bid Bust: Why Are We Destroying The Yard With The Pole Building?

Minneapolis_The_Yard_winterYou may have seen the artist renderings.  The drawings lay out a vision for The Yard, the planned four-acre urban park adjacent to the mammoth new Vikings Stadium.  In the winter versions, the park is shown populated by happy, hearty Minnesota families  skating, admiring ice sculptures, making snow angels and generally laughing in the face of Old Man Winter.

Minneapolis_skating_outdoorsWhen I look at that rendering, I can clearly hear the soundtrack.

“When it snows,
ain’t it thrilling?  
Though your nose
gets a chilling. 
We’ll frolic and play
the Eskimo way. 
Walking in a winter wonderland.”

That, my friends, is us.  Minneapolis has the best park system in the nation, because Minneapolitans loves them some outdoor activities in all seasons.  That’s why this little outdoor space has emerged as one of the more intriguing, unifying and endearing elements of the Minneapolis stadium area vision.   It is a quintessential Minnesota kind of space being built on Minnesota’s most visible stage.

But the corporate types dreaming up the Super Bowl bid don’t see it that way.  They  promised the NFL muckety-mucks that they would replace The Yard with, well, The Pole Barn.

Minneapolis_super_bowl_-_Google_SearchWell, technically, I guess it’s going to be a tent, but in the artist’s renderings, the ginormous grad party tent looks more like a poultry pole barn to me.  To be fair, it does have a very snazzy Super Bowl LII logo on the roof, making it one of the more swank pole barns I’ve ever seen.

I understand what the Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his merry band of corporate boosters are shooting for with this idea.  They wanted to reassure delicate NFL billionaire owners who have heard nasty rumors about Minnesota weather that we are in possession of heat, and are prepared to pipe it in wherever the partying swells desire it.

But making The Yard into the The Pole Building is going too far.  We don’t want the Goodyear blimp’s panoramic shots of  Super Bowl LII to portray a generic Super Bowl scene.   We want those  shots to portray a uniquely Minnesota Super Bowl scene.  We want to show the world happy, hearty Minnesotans laughing in the face of Old Man Winter.

After all, we are who we are, and we should be proud of who we are.  We want to show the world that Minnesotans don’t just survive winter weather; we find ways to have fun in winter weather.  Showing everyone skulking into an ugly heated tent paints quite the opposite picture.

To be clear, I’m strongly in favor of heat in February.  By all means, heat the airport, taxis, buses, trains, transit stations, skyways, hotels, convention center, shopping centers, restaurants, bars, strip joints, water parks, indoor skating rinks, theaters, museum and, of course, stadium.  Heck, I’d even be okay cranking it up a few extra degrees for those couple of weeks.

But don’t, repeat don’t heat, sterilize and corporatize the outdoor space that we are building to frolick and play the Eskimo way on the national stage.  Super Bowl week or not, let’s let Minneapolis be Minneapolis.

Loveland

Note:  This post also appeared on streets.mn.

A New Nickname For Minnesota’s New Stadium

The_Dome_Deflated-3The stadium formerly known as Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome” (MOAF@HHHM) obviously screamed out for shorthand, or a nickname.  So most of us just called it “The Dome,” much to the chagrin of the MOAF@HHHM brand managers.

“The Dome” was a bite-sized and descriptive label, so it worked better for ordinary people. “Metrodome,” “Thunderdome,” or “Homerdome” were occasionally in the mix, but usually it was simply “The Dome.”

But now that “The Dome” has been popped in spectacularly anticlimactic fashion, stadium officials are focusing on naming the replacement.   The corporate auction over naming rights probably will lead to a name that will be a mouthful, and therefore probably will be replaced by the masses with a new nickname.

Vikings_Stadium-2So what will we use as a shorthand reference for our new sports palace?  I’m hoping the nickname will be derived from the nature of the structure itself, as “The Dome” was.  When the shorthand is derived from the corporate name –  see “the bank” and “TCF Bank Stadium” – that strikes me as selling out to The Man.  Taxpayers paid significantly more to finance the stadium than the corporate sponsor, so I hate for the nickname to give the suits all the credit.

Like “The Dome,” the new nickname should be 1) concise and simple and 2) descriptive of a differentiating feature of the building.  Here are few options to spark  community brainstorming:

  • The Ship.  We’re told the architects were going for a Viking ship look with their design.  Therefore, calling the stadium “The Ship” could help architecturally challenged citizens like me appreciate the method behind the madness.  The park to the west then could be the Ship Yard, The Dock, or something corny like that.  To get more authentic, we could call it the Knarr, Karve, or Faerring.  But that’s probably too Scandi-geeky, even for Minnesota.
  • The Hipsterdome.  Minneapolis hipsters can’t like anything that the masses like, such as pro football stadia.  If they sided with the masses, they wouldn’t be hipsters.  However, if the non-hipster masses express disapproval for the controversial modernist design,  hipster contrarians would feel compelled to embrace it to show that they alone can see the genius in the design.  In that case, “Hipsterdome” would give Minneapolis hipsters ownership, or blame, depending on your opinion of the design.
  • The Oops.  I kind of like the unusual design, but I’m not sure it’s beautiful.  It’s asymmetrical form is reminiscent of everyone’s first “oops” pottery project.   It’s misshapen and lopsided, but, doggone it, it’s our misshapen and lopsided.  For some, dubbing it “The Oops” would represent a celebration of the beauty of bold non-conformity.  For others, “The Oops” would serve as a populist critique of the fancy pants architect, who clearly is “not from here.”
  • The Cheeseball.  Get it?  You know, because it looks like a cheeseball after the  guests have hacked it up?   You seriously don’t see that??!
  • The Sunporch.  Our new stadium will have the largest transparent roof in the world, and the largest casement windows in the world.  In other words, the Wilfs are constructing  the world’s largest sunporch.  You know, one of those pre-fab transparent porches that are always tempting pale, Vitamin D-deprived Minnesotans at the Home Shows?  In the middle of a brutal winter, what midwesterner doesn’t want to spend time battling Seasonal Affective Disorder in “The Sunporch?”
  • The Artless Museum.  The Vikings stadium design seems derivative of the Weisman Art Musem and Walker Art Museum, so “The Artless Museum” would help people understand the differentiation among those three buildings. That is, this is the chunky building that contains no art.   “The Artless Museum” also would serve as commentary on the quality of the home team on permanent display.
  • The Rohrschach.  If you asked 100 Minnesotans what this amorphous new stadium  looks like, you might get 100 more different answers.  So rather than having a nickname that forces a single interpretation on everyone, maybe we should nickname it after the psychological inkblot test that allows for an unlimited number of interpretations.
  • The AntiDome.   It’s the AntiDome because the jagged, asymmetrical shape is the polar opposite of the smooth, symmetrical Dome.  It’s the AntiDome because it overcomes the things we hated about the Dome – the drabness, the frumpyness, and the shabby amenities.   The Dome is dead, long live the AntiDome.

Ok, maybe I’m not entirely serious about all of these options.  If you think you can do better, add your voice.  Like it or not, with a community project as prominent and distinctive as this one, nicknaming will happen.  So how about we give it some collective thought?

– Loveland

 

Note:  This post also was featured in streets.mn, Twin Cities Daily Planet, and Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Vikings Should Investigate Priefer Bigotry Charges Before Making Him Head Coach

Chris_KleweLast year I wrote a blog post asking the question “Is Chris Klewe Getting A Same Sex Divorce?”  I asked whether the Vikings punter, who had the best punting statistics in Vikings history according to KFAN Vikings analyst Paul Allen, was replaced by a Vikings coach who opposes same sex marriage because of his vocal support for same-sex marriage.

But whatever the real reason(s) for Mr. Klewe’s firing, new information shared by Klewe may need to be factored into the Vikings’ pending decision about its next Head Coach.

In a lengthy Huffington Post piece released today, Klewe shared several stories of allegedly disgusting encounters with his Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer, who is reportedly the leading internal candidate to replace Leslie Frazier as Vikings Head Coach.  Klewe claimed Priefer’s tone changed after Klewe starting speaking out for gay rights:

Throughout the months of September, October, and November, Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. He had not done so during minicamps or fall camp that year, nor had he done so during the 2011 season. He would ask me if I had written any letters defending “the gays” recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that two men would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance. I tried to laugh these off while also responding with the notion that perhaps they were human beings who deserved to be treated as human beings. Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed. I felt uncomfortable each time Mike Priefer said these things. After all, he was directly responsible for reviewing my job performance, but I hoped that after the vote concluded in Minnesota his behavior would taper off and eventually stop.

According to Klewe, all pretenses of joking went away as time went on:

Near the end of November, several teammates and I were walking into a specialist meeting with Coach Priefer. We were laughing over one of the recent articles I had written supporting same-sex marriage rights, and one of my teammates made a joking remark about me leading the Pride parade. As we sat down in our chairs, Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” The room grew intensely quiet, and none of the players said a word for the rest of the meeting. The atmosphere was decidedly tense. I had never had an interaction that hostile with any of my teammates on this issue—some didn’t agree with me, but our conversations were always civil and respectful. Afterward, several told me that what Mike Priefer had said was “messed up.”

Messed up indeed.  If this account is accurate, Priefer has proven that he can’t separate his personal bigotry from his coaching job.  That’s a huge problem.

It will be very difficult to get players to publicly corroborate Klewe’s version of the stories, because current players obviously have every reason to avoid offending coaches who hold their multi-million dollar careers in their hands.  Special teams players especially tend to be “on the bubble” between being on and off the team.  Therefore, they will be particularly careful about what they say about the people who make decisions about final cuts.

But this is why I’m inclined to believe Mr. Klewe:  If Klewe were making this whole thing up, why he would be citing rants that happened in front of large groups of other players?  Love him or hate him, Klewe is a bright guy, and he could surely fabricate more bulletproof lies, such as tirades that he alone witnessed.

Reasonable football fans can disagree about whether Mr. Klewe should have been replaced as the Vikings punter.  In his piece, Klewe himself acknowledged that his high veteran salary and his age were likely contributory factors, in combination with his outspokenness.

But reasonable people should be able to agree that anyone who rants about killing an entire class of humans because of who they love should not be representing the State of Minnesota as the head coach of our most popular professional sports team, a team that is now being heavily subsidized by Minnesota taxpayers.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf should be able to learn whether Klewe’s accounts are true.  Confidential one-on-one inquiries with other other special players who were at the meetings Klewe references should reveal the truth.  If Wilf finds that Klewe’s accounts about Priefer are true, or even half true, Priefer’s name should be immediately removed from the Vikings’ list of Head Coach candidates.

– Loveland

Beyond Ability to Pay, Stadium Authority Needs To Assure Monitoring, Disclosure and Accountability

vikings_stadiumAfter weeks of delay, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygmunt “Zygi” Wilf is finally sharing more financial information to prove he has sufficient financing to pay his share of the new Vikings stadium.  Or, more precisely, Mr. Wilf is proving that he has enough money available, minus whatever he has to pay in a pending fraud and racketeering judgment against him, plus a boat load of financial help from the National Football League, a forthcoming corporate naming rights deal, and Vikings fans’ personal seat license fees.

That’s progress.  Proving ability to pay is a necessary condition of moving forward with the stadium.  But while it’s necessary, it’s far from sufficient. Minnesota taxpayers also need assurances that the pledges Wilf makes in the stadium agreement are kept.

Not “One Single Financial Statement That Is True”

If you think that’s too paranoid, populist or punitive, remember what New Jersey Judge Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson said just a few days ago about Wilf’s behavior in another business partnership (from MPR):

“The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself,” Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson said, adding the Wilfs hadn’t fulfilled the “barest minimum” of their pledges as partners in the deal. “I do not believe I have seen one single financial statement that is true and accurate.”

Officially, she ruled that Zygi Wilf, his brother Mark and cousin Leonard committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty and violated New Jersey’s civil racketeering law.”

“I do not believe I have seen one single financial statement that is true and accurate.”  Gulp.  Judge Wilson’s statement should be disconcerting to anyone thinking about entering into a business partnership with the Wilfs, including the Minnesota taxpayers about to sign onto a half billion dollar partnership with them.

 Ability To Pay Not The Only Safeguard Needed

The Stadium Authority’s oversight must go beyond ability to pay.  It must also look into the veracity of other claims the Vikings owners have made so far, and, just as importantly, set up a tight system for monitoring whether the Wilfs are being honest throughout the life of the contract.

Financial oversight is certainly not my field, but maybe “keeping them honest” means regular audits, with large penalties for financial statement shenanigans.  Maybe it means requiring holding large amounts of the Wilf’s money in escrow until major partnership obligations are fulfilled.   It surely means plenty of public disclosure of all of any accountability-related reports.

 Rush to the Ribbon Cutting

Negotiating such accountability measures may take time, and consequently delay the project.  Though the delay has been caused by the Wilf’s own stonewalling, it would be unfortunate if the Vikings had to play some extra games in the University of Minnesota stadium, and if the delay drove up the cost of the project.  But a delay would not be as unfortunate as  the taxpayers getting stiffed because the stadium authority was in too big of a rush to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The Wilfs and the NFL won’t like the idea of being subject to penalties for bad partnership behavior.  They will send spokesman Lester Bagley out to express outrage and hurt feelings.  This from the folks who are freshly convicted of fraud and racketeering.  This from the  folks who regularly penalize their employees for the high crime of having fun with end zone dances.

Minnesota taxpayers should no longer care about Zygi and Lester’s hurt feelings or delayed ribbon cuttings.   In the wake of Judge Wilson’s startling findings about the Wilf’s past partnership chicanery, “Wilf has the cash” is no longer a good enough assurance for Minnesota taxpayers.  Taxpayers need the Stadium Authority to take their time, and assure taxpayers that “Wilf has the cash, and he’s being regularly monitored and held publicly accountable.”

Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota‘s Best of the Blogs and MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Zygigate Headlines I Hope To Read

WilfMinnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has announced that he refuses to negotiate with stadium officials until they finish looking into his finances.  In the Star Tribune coverage of this development, Team Wilf strikes a rather bratty tone:

The Minnesota Vikings said Friday there is “no point” in negotiating the user and development agreements for a new stadium while the state agency responsible for it is conducting an investigation of the team’s owners.

“Until the authority has the confidence in our organization there’s no point in moving forward with negotiations,” said Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ vice president of public affairs and stadium development.

In an interview with Politics in Minnesota’s Weekly Report, Chair of Metropolitan Sports Facility Authority (MFSA) Michelle Kelm-Helgen sounded baffled by the Vikings ownership’s snit:

In news accounts, they said we were not good partners at this point. Here’s what I would like to say: They’ve been very clear that they will not talk about these agreements anymore until the due diligence is done. I try to interpret what they mean by that, and I’m not sure I fully understand it. Does the fact that we’re doing this due diligence make us bad partners? We need to reassure the people of Minnesota before the agreement is signed and the bonds are sold that there are no further problems or liabilities out there. If that makes us bad partners, I don’t understand that.

Again, all of this comes a few days after Wilf was found guilty of reneging on a multi-million dollar business partnership deal.  Wilf justified these illegal actions by saying he felt another Wilf family member gave the partner too good of a deal, so Zygi took it upon himself to unilaterally right the perceived wrong in a manner that apparently was outside of, let’s just say, generally accepted accounting practices.  The judge in the case said Wilf had an “evil” motive.

At the very moment this judgement came down, Minnesota taxpayers were about to go into a $975 million business partnership with the Wilfs, with taxpayers paying around half of the cost.  And Team Wilf acts as if the Governor and his appointees have no right to ask questions on taxpayers’ behalf?

Just from a pure entertainment standpoint, the headline of news coverage of this latest melodrama could become interesting:

Perp Pride: Convicted Vikings Owner Claims Victimhood?

Lone Wilf Howls From Negotiation Sidelines

 Limber Wilf:  Owner Who Defrauded Partner Calls State A Bad Partner

Zygi A Victim, Or Wilf In Sheep’s Clothing?

Dayton:  No More Wilf Guarding The Chicken Coop

– Loveland

 

Note:  This post also appeared in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Packers-Vikings Border Battle: Wanna Bet?

In case you haven’t heard, there is a Vikings-Packers game happening this Sunday that has playoff implications.  A couple people seem to be interested in it.  It’s reportedly an even bigger deal than the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

So, of course, now is the time when rival state politicians customarily make a sporting bet over who will win, to prove to the commoners that they are just regular Joes obsessing about football like everyone else.

Usually the bet is pretty predictable.  If Minnesota wins, Green Bay pays in cheese.  If Green Bay wins, Minnesota pays in pork, or whatever industry the politician wants to court.  Hilarity ensues.  We all can’t get enough of it.  It’s one of the most hackneyed and enduring rituals in American politics.

But how about we spice things up with some more culturally appropriate gifts? Continue reading

Three Reasons For The Silence On The Campaign Trail About Vikings Stadium Subidies

In 2012, the dominant issue in the Minnesota Legislature was the debate about public subsidies for the Vikings Stadium.  No issue was more emotionally charged.  No issue was more polarizing.  No issue was more heavily covered in the news.

So just a few months later, why is this marquee legislative issue such an insignificant factor in the campaign for control of the Minnesota Legislature?  After all, based on last year’s debate, you might expect that  it would be The Issue out on the stump.

But I’m not seeing it.  The issue hasn’t been raised once in any of the many political direct mail pieces that have clogged my mailbox, or cable TV ads flooding my living room.  Moreover, I Googled “Vikings Stadium and election,” and found no stories where the mother of all legislative Issues was playing a prominent role out on the political hustings. Continue reading

Bills’ Minnesota Currency Proposal: Change We Can Believe In?

U.S. Senator Amy Kloubachar’s virtually invisible campaign opponent Kurt Bills borrows many of his policy ideas from his mentor, libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul.  One of the least discussed of Bills’ proposals is his call for Minnesota to consider issuing its own currency.

Like Congressman Paul, Mr. Bills backs a national return to the gold standard.  In addition, Bills has sponsored state legislation to study whether Minnesota should adopt an alternative currency.  Bills’ bill (H.F. 1664):

“A joint legislative committee is established to study the adoption of an alternative currency by and for the state of Minnesota and its citizens, in response to the abdication by the United States Congress of its constitutional duty to regulate the value of its money, which it has failed to do through the Federal Reserve System.”

Financial experts are not so sure about Mr. Bills’ state currency idea.  For instance David Parsley, a professor of economics and finance at Vanderbilt University was quoted by CNN saying:

“Having 50 Feds” could debase the U.S. dollar and even potentially lead the country into default.  The single currency in the United States is working just fine.  I have no idea why anyone would want to destroy something so successful — unless they actually wanted to destroy the country.”

Despite the naysayers, the prospect of having a cool new state currency raises many creative possibilities for Minnesotans.

Name.  For instance, what would we call the new Minnesota currency?

MinneDollar quickly comes to mind, but that seems much too obvious.  Plus, if the dollar collapses, as Mr. Bills foresees, “MinneDollar” wouldn’t inspire much confidence, now would it?

Alternatively, perhaps Minnesota’s dollar could be called “ “The Viking,” to symbolize our ability to dust ourselves off after humiliating defeats, and come back for more humiliating defeats, without ever seeing the epic futility of it all.  Very Minnesotan.

Or, the corporatist Republicans controlling the Legislature might prefer to sell off the naming rights of the new Minnesota currency for a price, to someone like Twin Cities Federal (TCF) Bank, which  already owns the naming rights to a largely taxpayer-funded stadium, and is run by a former GOP Party Chairman.  Yes, Minnesota’s equivalent to “the dollar” could be called “The TCF.”

Finally, there is always “The Gopher.” What better name to carry on Minnesota’s rich tradition of picking really humiliating names to represent our state?  Plus, “Golden Gopher?”  Gold standard?  Get it?

Faces.  After we name our new currency, we, of course, need to put a good face on it.

America’s first President, George Washington, preferred faceless money.  He was staunchly opposed to putting President’s images on U.S. currency.  Modest George thought doing so was too self-aggrandizing, elitist and monarchical.  In other words, George was a socialist.

However, something tells me that the likes of Jesse Ventura and Tim Pawlenty wouldn’t let modesty get in the way of monetary immortality for themselves.  So we’ll let those former Governors fight it out to determine whose face is on our new Minnesota currency.

Why did I leave current Governor Mark Dayton off my list?  Ah shucks, Modest Mark doesn’t need that.  (Owning most of the new currency is good enough for him.)

Motto.  After our currency has a name and a face, it would need a motto, something akin to the saying on U.S. currency, “In God We Trust.”

If we go with selling off the naming rights, as contemplated above, I guess we’d need the new currency motto to be “Your convenience bank.”  Stop whining, it will grow on you.

“In Ron Paul We Trust” also could work, since Mr. Paul is the brainchild of all this, and because he is treated like a deity by his adoring followers.

But given the Minnesota Republicans’ obsession with proving they are tighter with the Almighty than everyone else, the GOP-controlled Legislature would probably make the motto something more like “In God We Trust, Unlike the Godless Liberals.” Bam.  On-message.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think my vote for the new Minnesota currency name goes to “The Loon.” I know it’s hackneyed.  But loons are graceful creatures with a gorgeous call that is closely associated with Minnesota’s iconic lakes.   Loons are our State Bird.  “Common Loons” are both beautiful and “common,” just like the great people of Minnesota.

Besides, “The Loon” perfectly captures the merits of the Mr. Bills’ idea.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report “Best of the Blogs” feature, as well as a “best of the best” in Minnpost’s Blog Cabin feature.

The Minnesota Vikings and The Butterfly Effect

Part of chaos theory is something called the butterfly effect, the notion that even a minor change in a nonlinear system, such as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, can result in large differences in outcome later on, such as the change in the path of a tornado.

Politics is a decidedly non-linear system, where small changes can definitely cause large swings in outcomes. Here are a few the behind-the-scenes flutters that caused the Vikings to finally prevail in their decade-long effort to secure stadium subsidies at the State Capitol.

A Recount.  00.4% of the vote.  That was Mark Dayton’s margin in a general election recount in 2010.  As a result, “Landslide Dayton” became the Vikings most powerful and committed supporter.

But what if Dayton’s 2010 opponent Tom Emmer had not started his campaign so gaffe-prone?  What if pennies had not been dumped on Emmer, turning an obscure issue like tip credits into an enduring symbol of an ideologically extreme candidate?

In a Republican wave election year, it’s easy to imagine that a few small improvements in Emmer’s campaign could have given Emmer an additional 00.5% of the vote, and the helm of state government.

If Emmer had prevailed, he would not have been as aggressively pro-Vikings Stadium as Dayton.  MPR captured Emmer’s position in 2010:

 “I support a solution for a Vikings stadium, but I don’t think you give $700 million in taxpayer money and hand it over to a private business.”

Emmer suggested a voter referendum linking funds from a new casino to pay for the stadium. He also suggested community ownership (Green Bay Packers model) or giving Wilf the Metrodome.

The Vikings viewed all of Emmer’s demands to be bill killers.  So if Dayton hadn’t squeezed into the electoral end zone — after an instant replay review by the officials — the Vikings likely would not have squeezed into their stadium subsidy end zone.

A Leader.  Powerful House GOP Speaker Kurt Zellers opposed the Vikings bill.  So did powerful House GOP Majority Leader Matt Dean.  That could easily have spelled the end for the Vikings.  After all, there aren’t too many major bills that pass the House with the leadership of both parties opposing the bill.

So if the DFL’s highest ranking House member, the often powerless Minority Leader Paul Thissen, had joined Zellers and Dean in opposing the bill, the Vikings fragile coalition probably could not have scored.

It’s not often that a minority party leader swings the balance in our polarized Legislature, but Thissen did.

A City Attorney.  With the Metrodome site as the only viable option at the end of the session, the whole effort would have collapsed without an endorsement by the Minneapolis City Council, a very tall order at the time.  And if Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal had not ruled that a city referendum provision didn’t apply to the City’s stadium proposal, because the City didn’t control the funding in question, City Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy made it pretty clear that she would not have been the final swing vote in support of the proposal.

Vikings MVP?

Think about that a minute.  If a political pundit had predicted before the session that someone named Susan Segal would be the key to whether the Vikings would get their new stadium, even many political savants would have said “who?”

But Susan Segal, Paul Thissen and 00.4% of Minnesotans all fluttered their relatively small wings, and the Vikings decade-long stadium loss streak finally came to an end.

“A game of inches,” indeed.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured as part of the “Best of the Blogs” feature in Politics in Minnesota’s Morning Report.

Vikings Post Game Show

Is the Vikings Stadium bill a political boon or bust?  A new SurveyUSA poll brings political hand wringers mixed messages.

Post-game pondering.

One the one hand, Governor Mark Dayton, who unapologetically led a bone-crushing stadium drive, still has a very respectable 56% approval rating.  In other good news for supporters, 55% of Minnesotans are fine with expanding gambling, the primary state financing mechanism used in the bill.  Most (57%) believe that the Vikings will leave without a new stadium.  Bottom line:  An impressive 70% say that if a lawmaker backed the bill, it would either make no difference in their voting (47%) or make them more likely to support that politician (23%).

So, backlash?  What backlash?

But the news in the poll isn’t all skol-worthy.   A slim majority of Minnesotans (52%) either want the Vikings to stay in the Metrodome in its current plain Jane state (16%) or renovate the Metrodome (36%).  In addition, most citizens prefer racino (26% support) and a downtown casino (36% support) over the bill’s heavy reliance on electronic pulltabs (15% support).  Overall, 58% say the Vikings Stadium should be funded entirely with public funding.  Finally, a whopping two-thirds (67%) of Minnesotans say there should be “a public vote before any taxes are raised to pay for a Vikings Stadium,” something the Vikings bill does not allow.

So, political armageddon is nigh, correct?

The fact is, polling on the Vikings Stadium is a bit of a political Rorschach Test.  Politicians can see what they want to see in today’s polling, because Minnesotans’ collective druthers are divided.  As certain as state politicians and pundits’ claim to be about what they think voters want, voters themselves don’t seem to be at all certain.

Is a vote in favor of the Vikings Stadium a political “W” or “L?”  Well, the most difficult day to be a Vikings Stadium supporter was probably last Wednesday.  The most difficult day to be an opponent of the Stadium will be the Minneapolis-hosted Super Sunday in 2016 or 2017.   To every thing, there is a season.

– Loveland