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Temples of Our Times

What our sports stadiums stand for.

12:00 AM, Oct 19, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
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ONE CAN DRAW CONCLUSIONS about the values of society by the places of worship it builds and the gods they revere in them. Ancient Aztecs built temples to gods requiring bloody human sacrifices, while Zoroastrians largely concerned themselves with less murderous and more deeply spiritual centers of worship. Buddhists create peaceful areas for meditation; Christians and Muslims aspire to touch God in some manner through architectural means, giving places of sanctuary and prayer to their followers.

What temples do secular societies build? Lately in America, cities and states have increasingly found themselves funding and building vast offerings to professional athletes and the games they play, even though the owners and participants of these games make enough money to house themselves quite handsomely. Why do communities foot the bill for this, and what does it say about the people who support the practice?

That question moved from a vague philosophical debate to practical and uncomfortable introspection for many in Minnesota last week. The Minnesota Vikings have long demanded a new venue in which to play their games--one funded by taxpayers and from which the proceeds almost exclusively support the privately-owned team. In the past seven years, the team has gone through three different owner groups, but all of them have demanded public financing for a new, improved stadium to replace the 23-year-old Hubert Humphrey Metrodome.

Local voter opinion has consistently opposed a publicly-financed NFL stadium, as it has opposed with a similar demand from the Minnesota Twins. However, this year it appeared that new ownership had campaigned hard and threatened often enough to leave so that political momentum had built towards a solution--one that would not include direct participation on behalf of the voters, but would include taxes: Governor Tim Pawlenty opened up the possibility of reversing an election pledge against increasing taxes to pay for a new NFL facility.

That's when the Vikings decided to do a remake of The Love Boat on Lake Minnetonka.

ACCORDING TO allegations aired in the local news media and confirmed in the main through player interviews, team members flew in high-priced prostitutes from Atlanta and strippers to accompany them on a two-boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka. The partying quickly got out of hand, with players having sex with the prostitutes while the cruise boat personnel had to stand by and continue serving the athletes. The cruise ship personnel alleged that some of the players harassed female staffers and others forced their way behind the bars to ensure that the booze flowed freely. Forty minutes into what was supposed to be a two-and-a-half hour cruise, the two captains compared notes about the activities on both boats, and then informed the cruise company--which ordered them to return immediately to shore.

The players claim that this has been blown out of proportion. The Saint Paul Pioneer Press reports that they want it known that not every player had sex on the boat:

"Some of them were gentlemen," said Stephen Doyle, the attorney for boat owners Merritt and Daryl Geyen of Al & Alma's Supper Club and Charter Cruises in Mound. "I agree with them all the way. As a Viking fan, the last thing I want is all the players involved in these accusations."

The two players said only a few players had sex on the boat, and Doyle does not deny that.

"First of all, I would say, I fully understand that concern, and I would love to clarify that for them," Doyle said. "But I don't want to pre-empt the police investigation. I understand their view, and I'm trying to be responsible, so nobody gets some exaggerated idea of what happened."

Doyle has said that 17 of the 90 people aboard the two boats were identified by crew members as Vikings and that some were trying to help crew members who believed their safety was in danger.

What a relief.

But what do we expect? When the main reason these multimillionaires get their communities to pay for their arena-temples is by extorting the desperation of other cities to host a team, why should the Golden Calf-like celebrations shock us? And indeed, does the problem really begin and end with professional athletes? If the example of Kellenberg Memorial High School is anything but exceptional, the answer is, sadly, no.