On the question of building a Major League Soccer stadium in central Charlotte, elected officials should just say no.
Our city doesn’t need another big league sports team – especially not downtown. There are far better ways to use public dollars and scarce center-city space.
I’m no enemy of sports – I make part of my living as a sports historian. I’m well aware of the significance that competitive athletics holds for American culture.
Day in and day out, athletes, coaches and teams enact some of our society’s fundamental narratives. At times they embody some of our highest aspirations. At times they hold a mirror to some of our worst faults. Either way, they help tell us who we are – in part.
The key phrase is “in part.” Sports is not life – not all of it. Even at its best – leaving aside the unfortunate excesses to which big-time teams and athletes are so sadly prone – it falls far short of narrating the full human experience. It’s an arena where teams or individuals compete with each other according to a clearly defined set of rules, which determine winners and losers. This structure mirrors some aspects of modern life quite well. It provides little or no insight into many others.
Big league sports offer an even narrower view, for the simple reason that they’re played almost exclusively by men. The vast majority of stories that they tell are about men: their courage, their determination, their leadership, and so on.
As a result, an overemphasis on big-time sports in public culture narrows our view of what – and who – matters in life. It also bolsters the dangerously mistaken notion that competition is the answer to all the challenges our society faces.
I’m not disparaging big-time sports or athletes. They have their place in our society. But we already have two big league teams settled in prime downtown space. Stories about these teams and the men who play for them occupy a big chunk of local media coverage.
If fans of big-time sports wish to focus their time and dollars on this narrow picture, that’s entirely their business. But the people who spend public money and make decisions about public space need to think more broadly.
The Smith family and Major League Soccer might be able to balance some of the limitations of their proposal with a more significant contribution to community well-being. They could, for example, build their stadium on the former site of Eastland Mall, in a part of town that could use that kind of boost. A project like that might be worth another look.
But if they’re unwilling to rise to that level of play, we should let them take their ball and head home.
Grundy is a historian and co-author of the college textbook American Sports. firstname.lastname@example.org