As with most everything these days, internet jokes provide thin cover for a darker truth.
Yes, the Los Angeles Chargers’ new logo is lame. Yes, it deserves the online roasting it got Thursday. But beneath the derisive laughter is the despair of thousands upon thousands of San Diego Chargers fans who just got told that they and their treasured memories and shared traditions mean nothing in face of dollars and cents.
The Chargers officially announced a move to Los Angeles Thursday after 56 years as San Diego’s NFL team. Owner Dean Spanos decided to move the team after the San Diego voters reasonably declined to give the Chargers millions in public funds to build a new stadium. Public money, voters commendably decided, should fund social programs and infrastructure rather than a professional sports team that exists to turn a profit.
Like so many owners before him, Spanos attempted to pit the intangible loyalties and shared memories of longtime fans against more direct municipal needs.
“We are reminded every time a player is cut that the NFL is a business, and now it seems the citizens fully realize it and are exercising roster options of their own,” wrote ESPN‘s Seth Wichersham after the move was officially announced Thursday morning.
Spanos failed to convince San Diegans. He lost his bid and so he moved the team.
“Keeping the team was important,” The Guardian‘s Les Carpenter wrote Thursday. “But not even civic pride is worth giving a billion dollars to a billionaire.”
The collateral damage here can’t be quantified but it can be expressed. Lost isn’t just the ancillary economy that exists around a pro sports franchise. Also lost are the loyalties and collective experiences of the San Diego supporters who cheered for and spent money on a team that was never even that good anyway.
That collateral damage was personified by fans who traveled to the team’s San Diego headquarters to dump off their suddenly outdated Chargers jerseys and merchandise. It was personified by fans who bemoaned the move on social media.
“Almost all my favorite family memories are of us tailgating” at Chargers games, one fan wrote.
The collateral damage was also personified by a friend of mine who grew up in San Diego and is well, was a lifelong Chargers fan. Now she not only says she’s done with the team, she’s done with NFL football entirely.
That gets to the heart of this whole story, which isn’t really a Chargers story or San Diego story or NFL story at all. It’s a modern sports story, one that has played out too many times for fans like my friend and her fellow San Diegans.
It’s the latest reminder that while we devote passion, exhibit irrational loyalty and spend our hard-earned dollars the majority of sports owners see fans as rubes to be taken advantage of, chewed up and spit out in the name of the bottom line.
Look at the NFL’s 49ers, who recently relocated from San Francisco to Silicon Valley in a move that epitomized owner arrogance. Look at the Golden State Warriors, who fans fear will lose their soul when they move from Oakland to San Francisco in 2019. Look at Seattle, quietly one of America’s most vibrant basketball cities but without an NBA team since capitalists of the highest order moved their team to Oklahoma City a decade ago.
In an open letter posted to social media Thursday, Spanos intended to rationalize his own team’s move. San Diego, he said, “will always be part of our identity,” but today “we turn the page and begin an exciting new era as the Los Angeles Chargers.”
The team’s on-field performance needs to get better, Spanos said. Meanwhile, he added, the team must become a “leader and champion” for the people of its new city.
Interesting last bit there. Ask loyal fans from the Chargers’ old city how that one worked out for them. Why should sports fans in Los Angeles or anywhere else for that matter expect something different?