It’s terrible timing to have a column about Oakland titled “Death of Sports Town” as the A’s jump into the postseason, yet here it is. Written by ESPN the Magazine writer and former Chronicle scribe Tim Keown, the piece tries to codify the meaning and value professional sports teams provide to their home communities.
Keown deftly explains the socioeconomic dichotomy that stratifies Oakland, the lack of outsider faith in The Town, the city government’s ongoing ineptitude, and the greed of owners who already have one foot out the door.
At the end of the column is a plea from Keown for the owners and overseers of these sports to, for once, forgo the extra $$$ and try to keep the community intact.
In the relentlessly monarchical world of professional sports, someone has to be able to forsake a digit or two in the bank account to create a legacy more meaningful than a trust fund that’ll cover a lifetime of BMWs and Botox treatments for the grandchildren of his grandchildren. Someone has to consider the void left behind.
Yet Keown can’t clearly answer the question he poses about gauging the impact of pro sports. I don’t know that anyone can. Yes, they are part of the fabric of any community fortunate to have them there. He drops the Raider-turned-San Leandro-cop Kenny Shedd anecdote. He interviewed Oakland native and NBA rising star Damian Lillard, who grew up near the Coliseum. These are all good, but anecdotes are the worst kind of gauge. There should be something between these feel-good stories and cold political calculation, as was exhibited in the Oakland Chamber’s poll yesterday.
In the poll, 50% felt that it was very or extremely important to keep the franchises in town. 55% of the 500 respondents said that they hadn’t attended an A’s game in the last 12 months. Another 20% only went 1-2 times. Obviously, part of the reason has to be the Coliseum’s dilapidated state. Some may be turned off by ownership. It shouldn’t be the team, since they’ve been meme-ing the sports world for the last 15 months. Someday someone – perhaps multiple people – will write an academic study on Oakland and its relationship with sports. Hopefully it’s not an eulogy.