I have long believed that it would take an “Act of God” for Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf to get a new publicly financed football stadium. After all, despite Wilf’s pleadings and threats, taxpayers are less than eager these days to subsidize the billionaires among us. This is particularly true in Minnesota, where the Twins just opened a new publicly funded ballpark despite the fact that in 2007 a freaking bridge collapsed in the Twin Cities, sending 13 people to their deaths. Clearly there are other priorities for public funds.
Cue the Neoliberal Almighty. In a scene that looked like an outtake from Kirk Cameron's latest Left Behind epic, the Metrodome’s roof collapsed under 17 inches of snow. The debris hadn’t even been cleared before team president Mark Wilf (no relation to Zygi… just kidding it’s his kid brother) said that it would be "premature to discuss" whether the collapse "changes the debate over a new stadium.” In other words, the Wilf family wants you to know that it’s absolutely premature to discuss this thing that they don’t want to discuss. His fellow owner John Mara of the New York Giants was only too happy to be “premature”, saying that the roof-rupture "bolsters their argument why they need a new stadium. For this to happen nowadays is pretty incredible."
Their press minions beat the drum as well. Kurt Badenhausen, who writes a blog for Forbes Magazine called, rather revoltingly, Jock Rich wrote within hours of the roof’s collapse, “The Vikings more than any other NFL team need a new stadium from a financial perspective and now apparently from a structural perspective If Wilf can’t get public funding for a new stadium after Sunday’s collapse, Minneapolis can kiss the NFL goodbye.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune also frantically put up a poll where they posed the question, “Does the Metrodome roof collapse convince you that the Vikings do indeed need a new stadium?” Currently 66% of the roughly 15,000 respondents say YES the team does need a new stadium.
Somewhere Naomi Klein is shaking her head. This is Shock Doctrine 101: a calamitous event propels the priorities of those in power. The Internet is now abuzz with conspiracy theorists asking if this wasn’t an Act of God but an act of Wilf – an artful piece of stadium sabotage (after all, 17 inches of snow is known in Minnesota as a “dusting.”) Such theories have no factual basis but it’s not hard to see who benefits from this. As Minnpost.com wrote acidly of the accident, "If you look closely, I believe you can see Zygi Wilf with a box cutter rappelling down the north side."
Why do the otherwise eminently sane people of the Twin Cities leap to the land of conspiracy? I asked Minnesota's finest labor history professor, Peter Rachleff for his take.
“Minnesota has changed," he said. "Once a site for top notch education, well-kept recreational facilities, progressive views about race, and respect for unionized workers have been frayed by two decades of neoliberal practices and policies from the factory floor to the state capitol and from emergency rooms to city halls. Politicians like Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the wannabe-Presidential contender, have shirked their responsibility for this miserable change in climate. Known in other circles as ‘Teflon Tim’ for his fast footwork in the face of the consequences of his (in)actions, such as the collapse on his watch of the I-35 bridge, it is a fitting irony that the recent monster snow storm collapsed the teflon roof of the Metrodome. Where are the poets when we need them?
Poets are always welcome, but the answer here barely even requires prose. Despite the optical dramatics, the reality of the collapse is much more banal. As Neil DeMause explained, the roof may even be patched up in time for next week’s game, one of the advantages of the Metrodome’s cheaply made inflatable roof.
If Wilf doesn’t like his bargain basement digs, let him pay for his own new stadium. Or just remove the rest of the roof and have the Vikings play outdoors before an open sky. After all, the team went to four Super Bowls before they entered the dome. Since they’ve played under a roof, zero. It’s Minnesota for goodness sakes. If they can play outdoors in Green Bay, they should be able to do it in the Twin Cities. Or we can just build another stadium and play America’s favorite car game, “Will this bridge I’m driving on collapse.”
Zygi Wilf may threaten to move the team to Los Angeles so he can be known for time immemorial as the Walter O’Malley of the Mid-west. But the Vikings were ours long before they were ever his. If Mr. Wilf wants partial public funds for his new stadium, we should demand public ownership of the team. And if Zygi doesn't like it, he can talk to the complaints department.
Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing email@example.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.