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Sports team owners need to step up

People all over the country are stepping up.

Whether it’s to the plate, the faceoff circle, center court or whatever venue they choose, citizens all over the country are doing whatever they can to help each other through a very difficult time in this world.

They’re checking in on neighbors, running errands for friends, spending money to support struggling local businesses or just simply trying to put a smile on someone’s face. Regardless of their methods, it’s admirable how many people are doing what they can to help people in need.

Some of the people at the front of the line among those helpers are professional athletes. Yes, the people we often deride as overpaid and egotistical are giving their money and their time to help out the employees of the teams they play for.

You can make a good case that they should, because most of them make an absurd amount of money and they should give something back. However, that’s not their job. It’s their bosses.

There’s lots of part-time, seasonal or nonsalaried employees that work for pro franchises and they’re often forgotten. They’re ushers, concession stand attendants, grounds crew or a wide variety of other positions. Many of them depend on their hours to help pay bills and with the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball seasons being delayed, they might not get that money at a bare minimum for at least a month. Probably closer to two months at this point.

When the league delays began, athletes started to help out. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love contributed $100,000 to help pay Cavs’ and arena events staff and hourly staff.

Milwaukee Bucks forward and 2019 NBA most valuable player Giannis Antetokounmpo offered the same amount at Fiserv Forum shortly after that, as did teammate Khris Middleton and Detroit Pistons star Blake Griffin at Little Caesar’s Arena.

The biggest donation probably came from New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, who pledged to pay the salaries for Smoothie King Center employees for 30 days. That’s an incredible donation from a 19-year-old, who sees how privileged he is as a professional athlete and is more than willing to share that wealth with people in high need of assistance.

It wasn’t just basketball players who decided to do their part. Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky also pledged $100,000 to support part-time employees at the BB&T Center, while the Houston Astros’ George Springer did the same in baseball.

So basically, well-paid athletes in the three major sports leagues that have been postponed are willing to part with their money to help those who are barely scraping by. It’s really an admirable thing.

My question is why did it take so long for the billionaire owners to do their part? Some of them committed to helping out right away like Dallas Mavericks boss Mark Cuban. Considered one of the more controversial franchise owners thanks to his loud opinions and behavior, Cuban did something uncontroversial and announced a payment plan for American Airlines Center’s hourly workers.

Other professional owners followed suit, including Red Wings and Tigers owner and Little Caesar’s Arena operator Chris Illitch. According to USA Today, his company, Illitch Holdings, established a $1 million fund to cover one month’s wages for part-time staff for any games or events they may have worked, even employees in Florida who would’ve worked canceled spring training games.

Eventually, all MLB owners pledged to give $1 million each to their respective ballpark employees. Illitch, Cuban and other owners definitely have more than enough money to pay employees and it’s nice to see them show their appreciation for their employees and have the self-awareness to do the right thing.

Others seemed reluctant to help out their workers at all and only did so after public pressure. It’s also good that they figured it out that their part-timers matter just as much as their salaried ones, but if some of your fellow owners commit to helping out the same day as the season is postponed and it takes you almost a week after that to announce your payment plan, it makes it look like you didn’t care in the first place and the only reason you’re paying them is to not look bad in the public eye.

It makes me feel bad for those teams’ public relations staff as they’re either terrible advisors or their bosses are clueless.

One of those clueless owners is Pelicans and New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson. After Williamson made his generous donation, the Pelicans praised him in a tweet for doing so and then said they said “engaged with management at ASM New Orleans to determine what the team could do through ASM New Orleans to assist their employees.” They also said it was “a bit more complicated” because the Pelicans are only tenants of the building.

Really? Williamson isn’t a tenant of the arena and was more than happy to hand over his cash, but for Benson, it was complicated. To make matters worse, in that same tweet, the Pelicans said “the giving and helping this community in a time of need by Mrs. Benson and her organizations is unquestioned. When people need help, there is NEVER a question of who will be there.”

That’s a lot of words to say we’re not going to do anything. My favorite part is the fact that they capitalized “never” in the tweet. It makes me think Gayle was looking over the shoulder of the poor sap who had to send it.

Nevertheless, things suddenly became uncomplicated and Benson made a $1 million personal donation to set up the Gayle Benson Community Assistance Fund as well as an Arena Assistance Fund where game-day employees would get paid for the remaining postponed games. It’s a nice gesture, but Benson the billionaire should’ve been the first to help out, not the millionaire rookie superstar.

Then there are owners who are both clueless and just terrible people. That guy is Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who is what Mr. Burns from The Simpsons would be if he was a real person.

Despite getting blasted on social media on a daily basis, as I’m writing this he’s still the only NHL owner who hasn’t pledged to help his employees during these difficult times.

Just to give you an idea of how greedy Jacobs is, he has a net worth of $3.6 billion and is 159th on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans. The guy could basically cover each part-time employee’s wages for the rest of the season and still have an absurd amount of money left over.

Benson tried to hide behind the excuse that her team didn’t own the arena they played in, but Jacobs can’t use that one as he owns TD Garden.

Interesting note, the NBA’s Celtics also play in the arena as tenants and they’ve already pledged to cover their part-time and game-night employees for the rest of the season. If you’re keeping count, Celtics good, Bruins bad.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Jacobs makes his money from his company, Delaware North, which owns the concession stands at more than 50 stadiums around the country, including the ones at Little Caesar’s Arena and Comerica Park. So when you buy a hot dog at a Tigers game this fall, your hard-earned money is going to Jacobs, a greedy clown who not only won’t help the workers at TD Garden, but even the ones at his original company.

Once again, it’s the athletes who are willing to help. As Jacobs sits in his home lighting cigars with $100 bills while sipping brandy and asking his butler Reginald how the stock market performed, Bruins players have publicly backed a GoFundMe campaign to take care of TD Garden workers. The page’s goal is to raise $250,000 and as of Wednesday, it’s at $34,000. Wow, if only there were some ridiculously wealthy guy out there who could help with this cause.

Things aren’t great right now in this country, let alone the world, and what makes it worse is that because there’s no sports, people are suffering financially. Thankfully, though, there are ordinary people willing to help out where they can and athletes out there to help carry the financial load.

However, the players shouldn’t have to step up. The owners should, and right now some of them are sitting on the bench when they should be leading the charge.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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