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Having a pro football team may make us feel good, but is it worth it?

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Jim Foti
Jim Foti: It's impossible to make the case that having a team is make-or-break for a major metropolitan area.
Courtesy of Jim Foti

by Jim Foti

Jim Foti, a former newspaper journalist, is a ministerial intern at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul. He lives in Minneapolis.

Professional football games make people feel good. They can create a sense of community that's otherwise not easy to come by, and they can give fans feelings of euphoria. But as Minnesota weighs whether to hand over enormous public subsidies toward the building of another stadium, here's a tip for all those who proclaim to love the Vikings: 

No matter how good something feels, it isn't love if you have to pay for it.

The Vikings fans decked out in horns and jerseys while visiting the State Capitol are just one reminder that the debate over the stadium goes far beyond the rational. Professional sports are businesses that exist to funnel money from everyday people to extremely wealthy men. Those men do not live in our community and are continually looking for the next team or city that will make them even richer. Pro football's owners and players do not at all care where or whom that money comes from.

No matter how good something feels, it isn't love if they don't love you back. 

Whenever someone worries about the fate of Minnesota if the Vikings were to leave, I like to point to NFL-free places such as Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, with their vibrant cultures for young adults and growing populations. Then, for comparison, I like to point to NFL-blessed places such as Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland and St. Louis.

If this were a rational decision, and not one based on the tribal impulses involved in the worship of football, there would be no new stadium. It's impossible to make the case that having a team is make-or-break for a major metropolitan area.

But it's not at all hard to make the case that football creates a trail of broken lives for the players and their families. The fans who cheer those bone-crushing hits on the field quickly turn away when the conversation shifts to brain damage and even suicides among former NFL players.

And at the amateur level, parents are struggling to reconcile a familial love of the game with their love for their children. Studies are beginning to show that children regularly suffer measurable cognitive damage from contact sports.

How good do football games have to feel for brain damage not to matter?

I know, I know — this kind of thinking is such a buzzkill, and in our culture there's no bigger failure than failing to be entertained. But as the stream of injury lawsuits from former NFL players turns into a torrent, the sport may well go bankrupt from litigation — or become so dainty as to be unwatchable. 

If that happens, Minnesota would be mighty glad that it hadn't taken a half-billion dollars from ordinary citizens and spent it on an NFL stadium — just to have something to do on Sunday afternoons, just to try to have good feelings about our state and ourselves.