Who Negotiated That Stadium Deal Again?

Vikings PR people like to tell Minnesotans that the team’s owner, billionaire Zygi Wilf, is paying about 60 percent of the ever-growing $1.2 billion stadium cost.  The truth, as Star Tribune/1500ESPN columnist Patrick Reusse pointed out back in May 2012, is that something like $450 million of the Wilf’s share will be paid by people other than the Wilfs. For instance, season ticket holders will be making exorbitant seat license payments to the Wilfs, the National Football League will be paying a subsidized “loan” to the Wilfs, and U.S. Bank will be making naming rights payments to the Wilfs.  All of this will offset the Wilf’s stadium costs by about $450 million.

Taking all of that into consideration, Mr. Wilf looks to be shelling out more in the neighborhood of  $250 million of his own money, or 21% of the cost of the $1.2 billion total, not the 60 percent the Vikings claim.  It’s difficult for an outsider to come up with precise numbers, but that seems like a pretty fair, pardon the pun, ballpark estimate.

Meanwhile, state and local taxpayers are paying about half a billion dollars for the Vikings’ stadium, or about 40 percent percent of the stadium cost.  In other words, taxpayers are paying significantly more than the billionaire owner.

Despite being the majority investor, taxpayers have no say in the name of the stadium, and will be getting 0 percent of the estimated $10 million per year of corporate naming rights payments that U.S. Bank will be paying over the next two decades.  The billionaire Wilfs will be getting 100 percent of the $220 million in naming rights payments.

Formerly_People_s_Stadium

mao_tiananmen_squareIt’s bad enough that U.S. Bank looks to be getting more corporate visibility than Chairman Mao demanded for himself at Tiananmen Square. To add insult to aesthetic injury, taxpayers aren’t getting a single penny for putting up with U.S. Bank’s excessive corporate graffiti.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I give you U.S. Bank Stadium, formerly billed to skeptical taxpayers as the “people’s stadium.”  State leaders should be doing some retrospective soul-searching about how they got so thoroughly fleeced by the Wilfs on this deal.

Strib Does Great Adrian Peterson Reporting, Then Buries It In 40th Paragraph

Star_Tribune_Peterson_articleThe Star Tribune’s Mike Kaszuba, Rochelle Olson and Paul McEnroe did outstanding investigative reporting in today’s paper, raising important questions about the operations of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s charitable foundation, the All Day Foundation.

The majority of the article focused on other issues in Peterson’s past that had been spotlighted in the news media, but had not been aggregated into one article.   I have followed Peterson’s career fairly closely, and had forgotten about many of those issues, so the the aggregation itself was a service to readers.   Though the Vikings work hard to promote Peterson as a model citizen, the article points out that that characterization has been overstated.

While most of those issues were old news, the portion of the article about Peterson’s charitable foundation broke new ground.  In case you missed it, as many Minnesotans probably did, here it is:

Peterson’s indictment has also thrown a spotlight on his charity, Adrian Peterson’s All Day Foundation, which focuses on at-risk children, particularly girls. The charity shut down its website following the September indictment.

The charity’s 2011 financial report showed $247,064 in total revenue, and listed just three organizations that received money. A fourth outlay, entitled simply “clothing for needy families,” listed “unknown” for the number of recipients.

In 2009, the charity said its largest gift, $70,000, went to Straight From the Heart Ministries in Laurel, Md. But Donna Farley, president and founder of the Maryland organization, said it never received any money from Peterson’s foundation. “There have been no outside [contributions] other than people in my own circle,” said Farley. “Adrian Peterson — definitely not.”

The East Texas Food Bank, based in Tyler, said it received money from Peterson’s foundation in 2009, although the foundation’s tax filing for the year listed just one donation to a food bank — the North Texas Food Bank, based in Dallas.

Colleen Brinkmann, the chief philanthropy officer for the North Texas Food Bank, said that while her agency partnered with Dallas Cowboys players, she could not recall ever getting money from the All Day Foundation.

For some reason, this portion of the Star Tribune story didn’t appear until the 40th paragraph of the story.  It didn’t get the stand alone story such a new revelation deserves.  It didn’t get in the headline.  It didn’t get into the first 39 paragraphs of the story.

So, is that end of it?  Doubtful.  Because while many Star Tribune scanners probably didn’t make it that far into the tome, it’s a safe bet that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) did.

– Loveland

Hope for Adrian Peterson

Adrian_Peterson_wavingAs I wrote the day I first saw photos of Adrian Peterson’s abused son’s bloody welts, and read of Adrian’s admissions, I don’t want to cheer for Adrian Peterson any time soon, for fear that the child abusers of the world will confuse the cheering as indifference about Adrian’s child abuse.

I don’t mean to be judgmental.  I’m certainly flawed, and am not qualified to judge.  I just believe that the community’s priority right now needs to be protecting abused kids, not protecting Adrian’s career or my favorite team’s season.  And fans wildly cheering an admitted child abuser this weekend in New Orleans wouldn’t have helped the cause of abused kids.  So I’m glad Adrian has been sidelined.

But none of this means that I’ve written off Adrian Lewis Peterson.  I haven’t.  I still have hopes for my former favorite player.  High hopes.  Here is what I hope:

adrian_peterson_child_woundsI hope that Adrian gets awesome help from great parenting coaches, so that he can learn that abusing his children is abusing his children.  Not “tough love.”  Not “discipline.”  Not “good parenting.”  Abuse.  It’s an overused cliche, but the first and most important step in fixing a problem really is admitting a problem.

After Adrian learns that truth, and comes to sincerely believe it, I hope he speaks out about what he has learned, so that his revelations might help other abusers look at their own behavior in a new light, and maybe cause them to get help too.

I hope Adrian makes it clear to the abusers of the world that a parents’ responsibility is to get parenting help and learn the evidence about what’s best for children, instead of mindlessly repeating their parents’ mistakes.

Adrian has one of the world’s most powerful messaging platforms in the world at his disposal, and so I hope some day he uses that platform to speak out constructively on this topic.

Through all of these actions, I hope that Adrian earns back the right to be with his children, so that they can have a positive male parent in their lives.  His kids deserve it, and Adrian does too, if he first earns their trust.

I obviously hope that Adrian never again physically harms a child, employing the famous discipline he has exhibited in the weight room, practice field and stadium in his kids’ lives.

In due course, maybe profession football will happen alongside Adrian’s evolution into a better parent.  Maybe it won’t.  But if Adrian does those things, the net good he will have done for his kids and other abused kids could some day outweigh the harm he has done.

And if he does that, I will cheer Adrian once again, more loudly than ever.  And I bet I won’t be alone.

But it’s all up to Adrian now.  Not Zygi Wilf.  Not Roger Godell.  Not the Vikings’ corporate sponsors. Not Adrian’s lawyer.  Not Adrian’s PR advisors.  Not the Texas judge.  Not the fans.

I still have hope for Adrian Peterson, and I bet even his most ardent critics feel the same way.  But at this stage, it’s up to Adrian.

– Loveland

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

Vikings To Return To Full Strength Next Sunday With Return Of Gay Nuker and Child Abuser, Says Rackateerer

vikings_stadium_adrian_petersonNext Sunday’s game looks to be a proud moment for the storied Minnesota Vikings franchise, and, by association, all Minnesotans.

  •  Special Team’s Coach Mike Priefer, who got caught lying for months about saying that he wanted to nuke a whole class of humans because of who they love, is expected to be back after a three game suspension shortened, due to good behavior, to two games.
  • Star running back Adrian Peterson, who has admitted that he repeatedly beat a four-year child bloody with a stick, will be back from a one-game deactivation.

But don’t be concerned.  Zygi Wilf, the Vikings owner who has been found guilty of racketeering and fraud after a New Jersey judge found that “I do not believe I have seen one single (Wilf-generated) financial statement that is true and accurate,” has investigated and cleared Peterson and Priefer.

I love the Vikings, but these are just the facts.  This lifelong Vikings fan has to go take a shower now. – Loveland

The Vikings Must Release The Greatest Running  Back In Vikings History

Upon hearing the news that Vikings superstar running back Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse, Vikings zealots quickly flocked to sports talk radio to express themselves:

The Vikings have the worst luck.

I sure hope back-up running back Asiata is ready to step up.

Will Norv change his game plan, and will Bill have a counter move prepared?

Will the NFL be extra harsh on Adrian, because they are taking heat about their handling of Ray Rice?

How many games will we be missing him?

Now who should I start on my fantasy football team?

What makes me sick to my stomach is that I can’t keep the same trifling questions out of my head.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m in a very different place.  Now that Peterson has admitted that he inflicted those wounds on a four-year old child, this diehard Vikings fan hopes the Vikings immediately release or trade the best running back in Vikings history, so I never am tempted to cheer for him again.

Understand, I’m no sports hater.  I spend embarrassing amounts of time obsessing over sports, and save my most obsessive behavior for the Vikings.   I’ve had a particular man crush on Adrian Peterson.  His game changing talent, inspiring work ethic, and sheer entertainment value have been easy to love.

But here’s the thing:  My favorite player beat a four-year old child with a wooden stick. Until he bled. In multiple places.   A four-year old child.

“Yeah, but everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves a second chance,” say my fellow Vikings rubes.  “My dad spanked me to teach me right from wrong, and that made me the man I am.  I guess AP is so strong he just got a little carried away.”

No. No. No.  One of the more powerful men on the planet beat a tiny 4-year old child with a stick until he bled in dozens of places.  If reading that sentence isn’t motivating enough for you, close your eyes and imagine how that would look and sound if it had been captured on videotape, Ray Rice style.

Yuck.

I’ve never understood the logic of “my kid was physically aggressive so I’m going to be much more physically aggressive with him to teach him a lesson.”  That teaches a lesson alright.  Just ask Adrian, who reportedly was beaten by his father.

adrian_peterson_child_woundsBut for those who believe in corporal punishment, you still have to admit that there is a line that cannot be crossed, where corporal punishment becomes child abuse.

Where is the line?  If this child had one welt where one open-handed blow accidentally got out of control, maybe you could have a debate.  If this child was three times older, maybe you could have a debate.  But with multiple blood drawing wounds on a 4-year old, there can be no reasonable debate.  This is child abuse.

The law enforcement system and NFL will decide what Peterson’s legal and professional punishments should be.  I hope to God that the law enforcement system makes sure Peterson’s many children are safe from him, and that Peterson can get counseling to help him understand how messed up this inherited parenting approach is.

vikings_stadium_adrian_petersonBut whatever the authorities decide, and whatever corrective actions Peterson commits to, I don’t want a child abuser held up as the face of my favorite team.  I don’t want a child abuser representing my state.  I don’t want my tax dollars subsidizing a sports palace to showcase the child abuser.

Most importantly, I don’t want other rationalizing child abusers to see thousands of Vikings fans shrugging off that child’s bloody welts and cheering wildly the next time the admitted child abuser busts off a long run.  Because if Peterson remains a Viking, you can bet that will happen, and it will be truly nauseating.

As much as I love the Vikings and football, lots of things in this life are bigger than the game.  Standing up for abused children is much bigger than the game.   The nation’s child abusers need to see that the world will stick up for abused kids and hold abusers accountable, even the powerful and famous.

The Vikings need to immediately release or trade the best running back in Vikings history.  As much as that bites on a football level, it has to happen.

– Loveland

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.

Why Doesn’t Chris Kluwe Just Shut Up?

Kluwe allegations?  Meh.  Why doesn’t former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe just quit all of his blathering about Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer and the gays? Kluwe had his time in the limielight, and it’s time for him to let it go already.  With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to let the home team have a fresh start. The last thing the world needs is another lawsuit.

If you listen to sports talk radio, that’s the dominant vibe from  diehard Vikings fans. Kluwe’s allegations are just a tiresome buzz-kill for them. They’re indifferent about the issue.  For them, it’s all about “let’s play!”

If Kluwe is lying about Priefer, then the fans are right. Kluwe not only should shut up, he probably should get the Jesse Ventura treatment from Priefer.

Truth_to_PowerBut if Kluwe’s boss did ridicule and threaten Kluwe for championing civil rights, and wish genocide on a whole category of human beings, then Kluwe has a moral obligation to sue the Vikings to get the truth out.

At first blush, a Kluwe lawsuit may seem like a money grab.  But Kluwe has said he will donate any lawsuit proceeds to LGBT rights groups.

At second blush, a lawsuit may seem punitive and petulant. But at this point, a lawsuit is really the only way the truth can be revealed. A lawsuit is the only way Kluwe can put former teammates under oath.  It’s the only way he can compel them to tell “nothing but the truth” about what they heard Priefer say. That looks to be necessary, because these are people who would surely be scared to speak out about their current boss.  After all, Priefer could release those players Kluwe-style, costing them millions of dollars. Talk about your inconvenient truths.

What’s the Big Deal?

So before an indifferent Vikings Nation rushes to cry “shut up and let’s play,” let’s step back and reflect for a moment. Here is what Kluwe alleges Priefer said:

Coach Frazier immediately told me that I “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff” (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be “good men” and to “do the right thing.” He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that “a wise coach once told me there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.” I repeated my stance that this was the right thing to do, that equality is not something to be denied anyone, and that I would not promise to cease speaking out. At that point, Coach Frazier told me in a flat voice, “If that’s what you feel you have to do,” and the meeting ended. The atmosphere was tense as I left the room.

Throughout the months of September, October, and November, Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. 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.

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.

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.”

After this point, Mike Priefer began saying less and less to me, and our interactions were stilted. I grew increasingly concerned that my job would be in jeopardy.

If that’s true, that’s not just rude or insensitive. It’s dehumanizing, abusive and bigoted.  It’s unbecoming of a team representing Minnesota. More importantly, it’s the kind of verbal violence that, intended or not, feeds and rationalizes actual violence against gays and lesbians.

Double Standard

What if Priefer had ridiculed and threatened an employee who marched to champion equal rights for African Americans, women or Jews?  Society wouldn’t tolerate that.

Imagine Priefer had said we should round up all the African Americans, women or Jews to be nuked.  Again, that would not be met by shrugs from an indifferent news media, NFL and  Vikings organization.

So why are so many seemingly indifferent about these allegations?  We should be standing up against this bigotry, just as most of us would if African Americans, women or Jews were the target.  As Hitler death camp survivor Elie Wiesel observed: “The opposite of hate is not love.  It’s indifference.”

I’m not blind to the possibility that Kluwe could be lying. But if he is lying, I can’t believe he would sue, as he has promised he will do if the Vikings don’t release their internal investigation report.   If Kluwe is lying, I would think he would quietly slink away.   If Kluwe moves forward with a lawsuit, I’m much more inclined to believe he is probably telling the truth about Priefer’s outrageous behavior.  After all, why would he put his former teammates on the stand if he knew the truth they would be compelled to tell — under threat of perjury charges — would show Kluwe to be a liar?

Viking Nation, I want to move on to football too.  I want to see if Teddy can throw, Captain can cover the slot and Mike and Norv can coach.  But as difficult as it may be for the face-painting crowd to grasp, some things are bigger than the game. Getting closure on these extremely ugly allegations is bigger than the game.

– Loveland

Duane Benson Interview: Reflections on Caucuses, Clowning, and Cancer

Duane_Benson_ballcapDuane Benson is leading an interesting life.  As a football player, he made the unlikely leap from the MIAC’s Hamline Pipers to the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Oilers.  As a member of what was then called the Independent Republican (IR) Party, he served as Minnesota Senate Minority Leader.

Since retiring from politics, he has served as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, Executive Director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF), Commissioner on the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and Trustee of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), among other duties. All the while, he has operated a ranch near Lanesboro, Minnesota.

But this has been a particularly poignant time of life for Benson. In the middle of overseeing a massive higher education system and a billion dollar stadium project, Benson’s brother died in a tragic house fire, his beloved dog died, and he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer.  He has a lot on his mind.

Benson is a fount of wisdom and humor, so I recently sat down with him over a Grain Belt at O’Gara’s in St. Paul to pick his wry, interesting and mischievous brain.

Q.  You recently had surgery for tonsil cancer. How are you feeling these days?   A.  I’m feeling good. I’m still having a little trouble with excess saliva that effects my speech, but I’m managing that better. I was real lucky early on, and I think my speech is getting better. I still have a little weight to gain back, but I have no complaints.

Q.  How did you discover it?   A.  A dentist said “you have a lump in your jaw.” I went to the family doctor, they took it off. The guy said it’s benign, salivary gland, but I’ll send your stuff over to Mayo. He sent it over there, and they wanted to run a PET scan. They found cancer on my right tonsil. So, they removed the tonsil and the lymph nodes on the right side. You know when you have something like this, you learn of all kinds of people who have had something like this go wrong. They kind of come out of the woodwork. And I can’t think of anyone who has come out of it better than I have. No chemo so far, no radiation, and very little restrictions of anything I do. Yeah, I’ve come out of it well.

Q.  The Legislature recently adjourned, and I know you still follow things at the Capitol. How has the tone of legislative discussions changed since you left office? A.  Well I think, it’s a little bit like religions for me, organized religions. We have 320 Christian denominations in this country, and that doesn’t count Judaism and Muslims and everyone else. We spend all of our time on how we’re different. Political parties have become that way. We’re spending all our time on how we’re different. To get back to the analogy of religion, a lot of people believe in God, but they spend all their time talking about how they’re different instead of the same. I think the party organization has had a lot to do with manipulating people in politics. I’m encouraged that in recent times Mike Hatch broke the mold and said to his party “I don’t want your endorsement.” Mark Dayton came along and said “I don’t want your endorsement.” In fact, the guy running for Senate (Mike McFadden) said he wouldn’t abide by the party endorsement, which would have been the death knell in the past.  And they endorsed him anyway!  So I’m encouraged that the whole religion stuff might be dying down. Maybe it’s going back to more about the greater good than “I don’t like you.”

Q.  What factors have caused the change in tone? A.  I think it’s the focus on how we’re different. I don’t want to harken back to some good old day or something. You should have differences, on four or five really big issues – taxes, could be education delivery, a few others. But now it’s everything. And so I think that partisanship got intensified.  But as I said I’m kinda encouraged that I think there’s a little bit of hope that you don’t have to go through the purification process in order to get (on the ballot), which means maybe the greater good will come to the front. When Roger Moe and I were in office, the political parties would come to us as caucus leaders and say “we need money.” We’d write ‘em a check, and say don’t ever darken my door again.   Now, political parties come and say “we’ve got the money, and you better be beholden.” That’s very different.

Benson_quote_officesQ.  What do you think could be done to improve inter-party legislative relationships? A.  It sounds simplistic, but I think it would help a lot if legislators had their offices together, so that every other office was a different political party. They’d come out and talk to each other. Right now for instance with the Senate and that new building, it’s a block from the other side. In the House it’s a floor separating them. And the whole place is run on communications, but I guarantee I can go over there and find people who haven’t met all their colleagues yet.   I think office-ing near each other is a kind of a simple fundamental thing that could happen to help people get to know each other. Then I think you start to respect each other, and do all these other things.

Q.  What else has changed? A.  A lot of these ethics laws that needed to be passed did change things.   Before, you had to go to these damn (interest group-sponsored) receptions. And you’d go out in front of the Capitol and you’d get in a car, and you didn’t know who in the hell was in it. You know, it would be Democrats and Republicans. You got to know each other. They don’t do that now. None. They’re physically apart.   Things got a little overboard ethically in those days, but to some extent there is a chilling effect of going so far in the other direction.

Q.  Well, they could grab a beer with each other on their own dime. Do you think that would help? A.  Well, sure it would. You know they used to say that Gallivan’s, down on Wabasha in downtown St. Paul, they say most of the laws were written there. (laughing)

Q.  How was it working with former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe? A.  I did an interview about Roger Moe and the interviewer said “Roger told me you were the only friend he ever had in the Legislature.” And I said “He was the only friend I had.” They got along pretty good, the bodies, and they didn’t need us. So we had to interject ourselves from time to time. And then Roger was the master of co-opting me and everyone else. He was pretty damn good at it. I’d get our group of people in our caucus all fired up, ‘let’s go get ‘em, it’s an election year.’ They’d look at me and say “Roger appointed me the Chair of some council on seniors, or some damn thing.” (Laughing) Okay, check him off. Before you know it, I’ve got about two supporters left.

Q.  You and Senator Moe must have gotten angry at each other during the heat of battle. When that happened, how did you smooth it over so you could move forward?   A.  I think both of us, if we were wrong, we apologized to each other right away. Or he would be mad, and I’d say “we gotta get this behind us.” So we didn’t let it fester. You know it didn’t hang around and hang around.

Q.  Is that because the kind of people each of you are, or is it because that’s what you had to do that to get your jobs done?   A. Umm, I don’t know. You know, Roger is a Norwegian. (laughs)  The old adage about the Norwegian who loved his wife so much he almost told her, which is kinda true. You know, they don’t say shit. So, we would go to see (DFL) Governor Perpich together. First time. You know, I was so excited, I wanted to know about the squirrels and the windows. Roger doesn’t say a word the whole time. Second time I’m in there. We sat for a half hour. None of us said a word. Walkin’ out and I says to Roger, “That was sure fun.” He says “We actually made a lot of progress.” (laughing)  To him, that’s progress. That’s Roger. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

Q.  So, he thought the progress was just that you were establishing a relationship with the Governor? A.  Yep. Yep. And the other thing Roger did, and I still use it today, is that he would never sweep the table. Don’t take the crumbs. Given them something. And that year when we had like 41% of the Senators, I set out as our goal to get 41% of everything that went through there. And in the crime bill, we probably got 85%, taxes probably got 40%, health care we got 60%. Roger didn’t sweep the table. (laughing) That’s not the game now.

Q.  So why do you suppose he didn’t ‘sweep the table?’ A.  He wanted to stay in the majority. He didn’t want to piss anyone off. Boy he was masterful. I couldn’t wake the sleeping giant with a shotgun. He put (the Republican caucus) to sleep.

Q.  When you served in the Legislature, which of your colleagues made you laugh the most? A.  Oh my God. Clarence Purfeerst. We all have misnomers. You know, I’d keep track of them on paper. And they were subtle. I think I had five pages of them written down. Clarence Purfeerst. He was the Senator from Fairbault. Very effective. He carried the para-mutual betting bill. Living will. Never read ‘em. Never read the bill. Had no idea what was in them. But he’d say “if we could dispense the debate and get to the crotch of the matter.” (Laughs) And he had a hundred of those, and he never knew he said them. And we all said ‘em. Gene Merriam, one of the brightest guys who I ever served with, read every bill, carried the Superfund legislation. Room 15 was just packed. So somebody said, “Senator Merriam, what is pollution.” He says, “well it starts with an orgasm.” (laughs) The place was up for grabs. He turned red. Christ, they couldn’t get control of the place for another 5, 10 minutes. Someone says “you want to try that again?” “Yeah, really what happens with pollution is that it starts with an orgasm.” They adjourned the meeting. (laughs) People would come over to me and ask in a down moment “can I see your list (of misnomers).” Clarence had most of ‘em. But the rest of us, we did alright too.

Benson_teams_quote_3Q.  Did it help to get things done, to be able to laugh together? A.  Oh I think so. With all that’s happened to me recently with my brother dying, my dog dying, my cancer, and everything else, it kind of gave me a chance to think about what is that I like to do. And I like teams. For whatever reason, I’ve been the captain of everything I’ve played on in sports — in high school, college, the Raiders.  It’s because I like teams. I like  when you become somewhat invincible as a group, but weak as shit alone.   And so, it’s pretty hard not to have an ally if you laugh together. It’s pretty hard to stay mad about something. And that’s what the Legislature is. To get a majority, you need a team.

Q.  So, it’s interesting that you think of both your caucus and the entire Legislature as your team, not just your caucus. Is that right?   A.  Yeah.

Q.  That’s different now? Uh yeah, they had their caucus and we had our caucus. But make no mistake about it, they had more votes than we did. And so to get some of the things that we think are important, with 41% or whatever, (DFL legislators) had to be part of the team. You didn’t have enough votes to cram it down their throats.

Q.  What do you think DFLers misunderstand about Republican philosophy? A.  I don’t think the electorate is too warmed up to “who did this and who did that.” It’s“how can you fix it?” “Can you make it work?” I would say that  what Democrats fail to understand about Republicans is that Republicans want government to work better. Now some of them want less of it, to the point of none of it, but overall they want to fix it.

Duane_Benson_laughing_quoteQ.  What’s the most important thing your time in football taught you about life? A.  (long pause) I think to have fun. Gene Upshaw, Hall of Famer, used to stand up on the table and say “All you f***ers who just want to go out there and think this is fun, you’re not going to get a check. Head out there. Not you Benson, the rest of ‘em.” The game was fun. Politics is fun. I think people who have fun are productive.

Q.  These days you divide your time between meetings with very powerful people and meetings with cattle and horses out on your ranch. Where do you get more answers? A.  More out there (on the ranch). Being alone. I’ve been running for about 55 years. I average about 20 miles per week. Or I’m on a horse. I find myself thinking about goddamnest stuff that I just love. And I don’t have anyone to tell it to. But I don’t give a shit.

Q.  Superbowl Sunday 2018. Would you rather be in a luxury suite in the new stadium you are working so hard to oversee as a member of the Stadium Authority, or spending time on the ranch?  A.  I won’t be at the Super Bowl. Remember the great Duane Thomas from the Dallas Cowboys? He was goofier than hell. He never talked to a reporter all year. Never. So, then they get to the Super Bowl, and none of the reporters are going to talk to him. So, some cub reporter from Davenport or something sticks a mike in front of him. “Oh Mr. Thomas, isn’t this the greatest game ever. Aren’t you so excited. Can you believe this? Isn’t this the greatest game ever?” And he finally talked, first time all year. “No, they’re going to play another one next year.”  And that’s kind of how I feel about the Super Bowl. I don’t enjoy watching that much, and that one is going to be so full of hoopla. The game has changed a lot, and I don’t like all of that commotion. Madden called it hoopla.

Q.  How has battling cancer changed your outlook on life?  A. With my brother’s passing and things that were happening at the same time, you come closer to the realization that nobody gets out of this deal alive. I was thinking “so what is it that you really enjoy.” I’m kind of an isolated, not lonely, but I’m kind of to myself. But I just love the hell out of this team concept stuff. That doesn’t make sense. Kind of an isolationist that liked the team culture, establishing the culture, being part of that. You look at teams and why are some better. It’s the culture. I’m still wrestling with the cancer thing. You know, I’m fully aware that I could go back to the doctor in August and they’d take off a leg or whatever. But either way at some point, the Grim Reaper comes to see you. When I was in a couple training camps, they keep 40 guys and cut 100 guys. Really brutal. (laughing) So in the mornings, you’d hear the kid walking down the hall of the dorm we’re all staying in. “Knock, knock, knock. Breakfast.” “Knock, knock, knock. Breakfast.”   “Knock, knock, knock. Breakfast, bring your playbook.” And then you’d hear all the rest of the players holler: “Grim Reaper!” (laughing) Well, that’s one I haven’t finished resolving.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured as a “best of the best” in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

The Yard Canard: Presenting Our Featureless New Corporate Playground

Marred_YardA few days ago, I noted an evolution happening with The Yard, the park planned for west of the new Vikings Stadium.  In the 2018 Super Bowl bid put together by corporate leaders, images of The Yard  were changed from depicting the public playground Minnesotans were initially pitched as part of Governor Dayton’s “People’s Stadium” vision into the more lucrative corporate playground the Vikings’ wealthy owners and their corporate partners covet for  Super Bowl soirees.

This weekend, a Star Tribune editorial bemoaned the Super Bowl bid committee’s proposal for The Yard:

“The public first glimpsed the Yard as depicted in Ryan’s initial renderings: a lush public expanse of grass and trees framing the city skyline. Even in winter, with snow on the evergreens and skaters on a pond, the Yard was to be the “money shot” that defined our city and state to viewers worldwide, as well as a bustling activity zone for fans on game days and for neighbors and downtown workers on the other 355 days of the year.

But a newer image adds tents of various sizes and exclusive activities for Vikings ticket holders for at least 10 days a year, plus events sponsored by the (Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority) MSFA on part of the park for as many as 40 additional days. During rare mega-events like the Super Bowl or the Final Four, garish tents could cover nearly the entire park space, largely to accommodate national security requirements.”

First, national security officials are obviously capable of securing a small public park on Super Sunday.  Maybe skaters would have to walk through metal detectors.  Maybe snow fences and security personnel would have to be temporarily used on the perimeter, as is frequently done on the much larger Mall in Washington, DC.  Come on Star Tribune, are you really buying the Vikings’ claim that ice skaters are some kind of utterly unmanageable national security risk?

But it gets worse.   The Star Tribune then explains that the de-parkification of The Yard goes well beyond Super Sunday.

The upshot is that, yes, the Yard still aims to be both active and attractive, but unfortunately with fewer trees and fewer permanent amenities (public art, fountains, cafes, etc.) than originally imagined, and with more open space for flexible programming, most of it public but some private.

While that doesn’t rule out public skating in winter or soccer and outdoor movies in summer, all of the setting-up and tearing-down of tents and platforms will damage grass and other natural features and, more than that, will consume beauty and time that the public had expected to get.

So, let me get this straight.  The Yard will be exactly like a park, except with few trees,  gardens, water features, art or recreational-oriented equipment or structures.  Other than lacking those typical park features, and being regularly shut down and ground to a pulp by corporate parties, The Yard will be exactly like all the best urban parks.

The Star Tribune, which will be relocated very close to the Yard, seemed disappointed to learn of the newly marred Yard.  But ultimately the editorial staff did what it often does when powerful downtown interests are in play.  It pretty much fell in line with the corporate viewpoint.

It’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything big — say, a Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis or an adjacent park — without the financial contributions and willing cooperation of various governments, private companies and nonprofit groups, all with competing interests. The result is often a compromise that doesn’t measure up to every expectation.

“Nearly impossible.”  So that’s what we’ve come to.  Public representatives can no longer create a public park that serves public needs, even after making a half a billion dollar public investment in the development of the area?

The next time you go to Lakewood Cemetery, take a copy of this “nearly impossible” editorial and lay it on the ground.   That rumbling you feel is one Charles M. Loring rolling over in his grave.

– Loveland

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.

Are Vikings Whitewashing Bird Droppings Issue?

There are many big unanswered questions associated with the new stadium being constructed for the Minnesota Vikings.

  • How will we pay for our new sports palace if iPad gambling problems continue?
  • Will we be able to host a Super Bowl, so Johnny Manziel and the rest of the Vikings can enjoy home field advantage?
  • Will Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods be served at the new stadium (If so, I’m guessing polite Minnesotans will  call them “Different Foods,” so no one feels bad.)?

bird_poop_on_windshieldThose are important questions.  But I’m focused on something REALLY important:  How are we going to stop the world’s largest transparent roof from becoming the world’s largest collection of bird excrement?

I’m quite serious.  Think about it.  Your standard automobile windshield is about 15 square feet.  At that size, it is a bird shit magnet.  But, the saving grace is that your windshield is easily cleaned with a touch of a button, or at least with your feet planted firmly on the ground.

vikings_stadium_roofYour Vikings stadium transparent roof, on the other hand, will be 240,000 square feet, the largest such transparent roof in the world.  Local birds will have a target that will be difficult to miss.  And so far as I know, Zygi Wilf is not springing for a ginormous windshield wiper system.  Because of this, over time I’m concerned our transparent roof could end up as gray as the Metrodome roof.

Pioneer Press reporter Bob Sansavere asked about this almost a year ago, and was given a curt answer by the Vikings’ Lester Bagley.

“The ETFE (ethylene-tetraflouroethylene) product is self-cleaning.”

Blue skies, nothing but blue skies, according to Mr. Bagley.  Mr. Sansavere didn’t probe for details about that “self cleaning” claim, but I remain curious.   How exactly does “self cleaning” work?

  • Do plopping molecules disintegrate when encountering with ethylene-tetraflouroethylene molecules?
  • Is ETFE so darn slippery that bird poop immediately slides off of it? (In which case I have pedestrian-oriented follow-up questions.)
  • Are the Vikings planning to deploy something from Ronald Reagan’s strategic defense initiative (SDI) to protect the roof from sparrow-launched missiles?
  • Do we believe that local grackles will have so much reverence for the dazzling beauty of ETFE that they will voluntarily take their business elsewhere?
  • Can I get this miraculous bird shit-proof technology installed on my car and home?

Mr. Bagley’s “self cleaning” claim might very well be true. But since we taxpayers are buying about half a billion dollars worth of stock in the world’s biggest shrine to ethylene-tetraflouroethylene, I want to hear more.

– Loveland

Note:  This post also appeared in streets.mn and Minnpost.

Would Vikings Have Doubled Down On Priefer If Accused Of Racial Slurs?

Al_Campanis_Nightline-2When Los Angles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis said black players “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager,” he was quickly fired.

When Minnesota Vikings punting coach Mike Priefer was accused of saying something much more violent and radical about gay people, the Vikings gave him a vote of confidence before the issue was properly investigated.

That’s messed up.

Imagine if a Minnesota Twins pitcher accused pitching coach Rick Anderson of saying the things Priefer is accused of saying:

“Coach Anderson would ask me if I had been defending the black people recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that a mixed race couple would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance.

Another time, Coach Anderson made a joking remark about me leading the Martin Luther King Day parade. As we sat down in our chairs, Coach Anderson, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: “We should round up all the black people, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”

Would the Minnesota Twins shrug off such an accusation?  Would they announce him as their guy for next year before an investigation was completed?  Not a chance.

Watching this, you have to conclude that there is an ugly double standard at work here.  It is  much more acceptable to use gay hate speech in the professional sports world than racial hate speech.

To be clear, I’m not concluding that Coach Priefer is guilty.  The matter needs to be fairly investigated.  But giving the accused a professional vote of confidence in the midst of the investigation is a boneheaded PR move. Worse than that, it is an act of its own form of institutional bigotry.

Here is what I keep asking myself:  If Mr. Kluwe made up this story, why wouldn’t he fabricate a story where there are no witnesses and evidence involved, so he wouldn’t be forced to produce witnesses and evidence?  Because there are claims of witnesses and text messages, at this stage Kluwe’s charge can’t be prematurely dismissed as obviously groundless.

Again, there is a double standard at play here.  If Coach Priefer had allegedly castigated Kluwe for marching in a Martin Luther King parade, the Vikings would have taken this much more seriously.   If Priefer were accused of saying that  people with black skin should be murdered en masse, the Vikings would not have announced yesterday that they were doubling down on him.

There was a time when spewing racial hate speech was much more acceptable among professional sports coaches.  No more.  But with gay speech, we clearly have a ways to go.

– Loveland

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

Wilf’s Minnesota Partners Should Seek Advice From Their New Jersey Partners

Josef_Halpern_Wilf_business_partner_photo_credit_New_Jersey_Star-LedgerMinnesotans are about to become business partners with Zygi Wilf, to the tune of half a billion dollars.  To get the partnership structured correctly, part of our due diligence process should be to ask past Mr. Wilf’s past business partners what they would do if they were us.

For instance, we should consult with Josef Halpern and his sister Ada Reichman, who the court says were defrauded by their business partner Zygi Wilf.  What advice would Halpern and Reichman give Minnesotans on the eve of our business partnership with the Wilfs?

My guess is that Halpern and Reichman wouldn’t be at all focused on ability-to-pay, which seems to be the primary, if not sole, concern of the Minnesota Sports Facitilies Authority (MSFA) and the reporters covering this issue.  Minnesotans seem to be learning the wrong lesson from the New Jersey case.  After all, ability-to-pay falsification wasn’t the flavor of fraud the Wilfs served up to Halpern.  Having money wasn’t the Wilf’s problem in the New Jersey case; sharing it was.

As  Judge Deanne Wilson said, Mr. Wilf’s own testimony showed that he had “reneged” on the agreement with Reichmann and Halpern because he decided that they got “too good a deal.”  The judge also said “I do not believe I have seen one single financial statement that is true and accurate.”

So, what if the Wilf’s decide Minnesotans got “too good a deal?”  Will Minnesotans get the Halpern-Reichman treatment?

Given the Halpern-Reichman experience, I doubt very much that their advice to us would be “make sure they have enough money.”  It would more likely be “protect yourself.”

You can bet that Halpern and Reichman wish they had written a stronger accountability provisions into their contract, and regular audits reinforced with stiff fines for falsification.  You can bet that they wish they had made the Wilfs regularly disclose everything about the operation of the partnership, so that the financial funny business could have been discovered sooner rather than later.

Actually, what Halpern and Reichman probably would advise Minnesotans is to avoid partnering with the Wilf’s at all costs.  But since that doesn’t seem to be in the political winds at this stage, the MSFA should do what the Wilf-defrauded partners would surely do if they had it to do over again:  Don’t trust, verify.

– 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.

Naming The Vikings Stadium

And what shall we name our new little crown jewel?  No, I’m not talking about His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge.  I’m talking about the long-gestating  stadium of Minneapolis, formerly known as Mall of America Field, formerly known as the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

The stakes for this little name game are high.  The owners of the San Francisco 49ers recently negotiated a stadium naming rights deal worth $220 million over 20 years with Levi Strauss, an obscure little brand desperate to buy itself some name recognition.  Vikings owner Zygi Wilf hopes to secure a cool $10 to $15 million per year off of naming rights of the new stadium.

The Wilfs have hired a firm to handle this task in Minnesota, Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment.  The naming guru at Van Wagner, Jeff Wagner, gave us “Target Center” a few years back.

But I am willing to offer my services for free.  After much research, here is my detailed analysis:

U.S. Bank Stadium.  This is the front-runner, because U.S. Bancorp is local, and because financial institutions are big into the stadium naming game these days.

  • Pro:  They’re sitting on lots of money and not lending much, so why not buy yourself a vanity plate?
  • Con:  Brand confusion.  Another crappy football team already has “The Bank” on the east bank, so adding a second “The Bank” branch on the west bank just would make everyone’s heads hurt.

Land O Lakes Stadium.  It would make a lot of sense for our local dairy food processor to want to put its name on the asymmetrical building that looks like a half eaten block of butter.

  • Pro:  Sounds like a melodic description of the Vikings’ beautiful home state, not like just another corporate commercial.
  • Cons:    Our neighboring rivals may have the corner on all dairy-related branding.

Wheaties Stadium.  If General Mills wants in, I hope they lead with their top sports-related brand rather than the parent company brand.

  • Pro:  “Wheaties” connotes “champions,” our aspiration.
  • Con:  “Wheaties” connotes “champions,” which would bring immediate false advertising charges.

3M Stadium.  3M, formerly known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, is an iconic Minnesota company that produces world famous products such as PostIt Notes.

  • Pro:  Ultra-compact two-letter name dramatically saves on signage costs.
  • Con:  Sets up endless hilarious post-game punchlines for our beloved Wisconsin friends:  “You know what the three “m’s” in 3M Stadium really stands for, don’t you?”

Matt’s Bar Stadium.  If we must have a stadium named after a business, why not one that Minnesotans actually like, such as the loveable home of the Juicy Lucy in south Minneapolis.

  • Con:  They may not have quite as much money as U.S. Bank to pony up.
  • Pro:   It would be a homage to small businesses, which quietly account for half of Minnesota’s private sector jobs, while remaining “small enough to fail” without need of taxpayer bailouts.

OmniSynCorp Stadium.  OmniSynCorp is a little known start-up company that spent all its seed capital on hiring a corporate naming firm that now badly wants to see its name in lights.

  • Con: Promoting a business that will be in Chapter 11 in a few months may ultimately reflect poorly on the home team’s brand.
  • Pro:   The corporate naming firm promises that the corporations’ bleeding edge brand represents “an iconic homage to the game-changing synergistic synergy imbedded in our value-added values.”

Target Stadium.  I mean, why not?  We already have Target Center, Target Field, the Target Public School system, and Target Politicians.

  • Con:  It’s unfair to poor Walmart.
  • Pro:  It’s the soothing symmetry that only monopolies can offer.

People’s Stadium.  Governor Dayton famously promised us this would be a “people’s stadium,” not just the Vikings’ stadium, which persuaded the people of Minnesota to put up a half-billion dollars to pay for the joint.

  • Con:  It’s vaguely Soviet.
  • Pro:  Justice.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured as a “best of the best” by MinnPost Blog Cabin.