Perhaps the line that runs between Michael Sam, Sam Singhaus and Tim Tebow is not completely straight. I’ll admit that it is Pythagorean and that the angles of right are bisected with complements that dance – in what some might call uniforms but others may prefer to think of as costumes – through the gridiron. It’s the start of football season, after all, and Miss Sammy is the only guaranteed star here along the I-4 corridor (our new obsession with soccer and the Buc’s new quarterback notwithstanding).
Traditional arguments for public-private partnerships between sports moguls and their host cities wrap around community-building and victory. Even when professional sports teams are middling, at least the traditional arguments go, they provide opportunities in the form of ancillary tax revenues, tourism, and quality-of-life bonafides for corporate neighbors’ recruiting. Unfortunately, much of the (true, vetted) economic scholarship on the subject argues otherwise.
We Republicans always like a good economic argument.
Assuming that just for a moment, and to move onto the grander point of this article, the economic impact of a sports team is only 10 percent greater than a Dick’s taking over the empty third Dillard’s at the Volusia Mall, why might communities want to embrace a new sports franchise(or venue) when the returns are so little?
There aren’t many things that groups which include Mike Sam, Miss Sammy and Timmy T. can get behind – that cross the borders of partisanship – than a winning team to rally around. Witness the recent winter celebrations of all things Bolts in Tampa this year.
The people that step into the sports spotlight fulfill a need that we, Americans, all have deep down: to be the best at something. Regardless of what Charles Barkley so disappointingly asserted in the nineties, we look to sports figures as role models. We want those athletes whom God has blessed with superhuman ability to also be leaders off the field. We invest ourselves—publicly, privately—in them.
Whether this is fair or not, we pucker at Michael Sam’s kiss felt round the world as a victory for Pride. We look at Tim Tebow’s unassailable Christian faith as a victory for another minority in the otherwise secular locker room. We see these men and we cheer for them. We want them to succeed – not just at football, but in life.
We install our own dreams in them, each according to our needs and to their abilities.
What happens when they fail? Unfortunately, we are all embarrassed. Sam’s unprecedentedand unrepentant retreat dealt a blow, not merely to the pride of the SEC that spawned him, but to the LGBTQ community. He solidified the rest of the world’s discriminations that gay men can’t cut it in professional sports.
And Tim Tebow, good God, even Seminoles have to love him. The Tim Tebow Foundation, which raised $4 million during his first year in the NFL, continues to reach out across politics and religion. He is the anti-Sam, working hard for a second, third, and fourth chance: never quitting. Now forced into a punting situation, even as the Eagles have closed the door on Tebow’s status as a third-string professional quarterback, he falls back deep into the pocket of our hearts. But he has failed us in no smaller way than Michael Sam.
Differently – separately – but equally: failed proselytizers.
Finally, back to those stadiums. For every Tebow and Sam whose careers veer from the gridiron to other venues, there are many more good-hearted, generous, successful athletes whose activities serve as examples that hard work, persistence, faith, and sportsmanship provide returns. Those stadiums become civic meeting-places.
We may have lost the single-faced polarizing forces in individuals Sam and Tebow, but we have not lost the communities that polarized around them. Economists argue that, despite a difficulty in monetizing such benefits, the “public goods” and “externalities” of Tim Tebow and Michael Sam provide ongoing returns.
We have space that, were it not for professional sports, would not exist. If nothing else, we have pre-game and halftime shows where sousaphonists get vast audiences, where “students of the week” are honored, where veterans are thanked, where the National Anthem is proudly sung, where pee-wees – aspiring athletes in their own right – get a feel for turf under their young feet, where we are reminded that, deep down, we are a community of communities.
Externalities. Community. Unlike a library or a performing arts center, we are encouraged to interact together in public celebration of our private similarities.
In choosing our role models, though, there are other venues to consider, other stages whose financial impacts may be ten percent lower than a Bealls or mall’s Piercing Pagoda.
Let’s look no further than downtown Orlando and its perennial entertainer extraordinaire. Season after season, venue after venue, show after show, Sam Singhaus carries himself with grace and aplomb. We see, in the two sides of Sammy, the best of Timmy T and Mikey S, minus the failures. Resilient and consistent, Sammy is our All-American dragster.
Let’s look to Sam Welker, a high school English teacher from Gainesville, whose commitment to education is as impressive as the decades invested volunteering as leader and adult adviser to America’s largest youth service organization, KEY Club.
There is a place for professional sports in our world. There is a place for defeat in our world. The winning argument for sports is not based in dollars or in professional role models. Rather, it is based in community and the good Samaritans all around us.