Those in power may not like it when athletes speak their minds about various political issues (marriage equality, labor disputes, or what have you). But they sure don’t mind using the influence of say, owning an NFL football team, to promote their own personal political agenda.
Recently the Cleveland Browns, which have one of the more devout fan bases in the league (despite the fact that they haven’t been good since the 1980s teams of Ernest Byner and Kevin Mack), were bought by new owner Jim (Jimmy) Haslam III. A day or so later, Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan and Former President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State (and “lifelong Cleveland fan“) Condoleeza Rice made a “surprise” appearance at the Browns practice facility (where Ryan now famously mixed up backup quarterback Colt McCoy for starter Brandon Weeden).
(Click here to see the Cleveland Browns video of the visit.)
But of course, the appearance wasn’t a “surprise” at all, especially given Ohio’s important swing-state status in our Electoral College-slanted “democratic” election (where the votes of individuals in some states are more important than the votes of individuals in other states – but that’s another topic for another post for another day), and the Haslam family’s history as well-endowed supporters of Republican politicians.
Haslam, who at #396 barely cracks the Forbes 400, has a net worth of $1.2 billion. “He gets most of his fortune from his 35% share of his family’s 59% stake in Pilot,” Forbes reports. “His father, who founded the retailer in 1958, has a much smaller stake, having given away most of his shares to other family members, including his younger son and Tennessee governor Bill.”
No longer running the family business (Pilot Flying J truck stops, which Forbes calls “one of the country’s biggest privately held companies”), Haslam’s father, Jim Haslam II, is now the Romney campaign’s co-chairman for their home state of Tennessee.
Haslam, the newly minted Browns owner, is also an active supporter of Romney (and Ryan), and in the past has financially supported Lindsey Graham, John McCain, George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and others.
All of which is fine, of course. Owners, like players or fans or anyone, are free to support whomever they want. But they should afford the same privileges to their players that they assume for themselves.
Sports and politics are enthusiastically mixed all the time. We may as well stop pretending otherwise.