Jim Souhan: Timing stinks for Bagley's stadium rant

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2009 - 10:35 PM

In case the Vikings didn't know, the state is in the middle of a recession like everybody else.

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One of the advantages of a printed newspaper is juxtaposition.

Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's ironic, sometimes it slaps you in the face like a leather glove.

Thursday's printed Star Tribune offered this face-slapping juxtaposition of headlines:

Top of A1: STATE'S RED INK: $7 BILLION?

Top of C1: Vikings' stadium frustration rises to surface

Top of E1: The one thing ...

The A1 story detailed our state's economic woes. The C1 story quoted Vikings vice president Lester Bagley criticizing Gov. Tim Pawlenty for his unwillingness to champion a new Vikings stadium.

The E1 story asked readers to name the extravagance they won't surrender even in dour financial times. Hot chocolate, Surly beer and birdseed made the highly unscientific list; Vikings season tickets did not.

You could flip through a folded Star Tribune on Thursday morning and, without reading more than the headlines, be justified in asking this question:

What are the Vikings thinking?

In the C1 article, Bagley was quoted as saying of Pawlenty: "With all due respect, he's been governor for six years, and he hasn't done anything. He hasn't lifted a finger to engage in a problem-solving discussion to help us on our issue."

The version of that article that appeared on startribune.com had generated more than 600 reader comments by 7:30 p.m. They were attached to a sports article about the most obsessively followed sports team in the state, and yet many offered impassioned, and sometimes even intelligent, defenses of Pawlenty or attacks on the Vikings and Bagley.

The comments attached to many online sports stories, especially those regarding the Vikings, often devolve into the kind of petty, misspelled banter you might find on the wall of an elementary school bathroom stall. Many of the comments attached to this article rationally asked why a state swimming in red ink would spent $700 million to build a football stadium.

Timing is everything in standup comedy and stadium seeking. The Twins made every possible mistake in the early years of their stadium lobbying -- lying to the public about the possibility of moving the team, promising that Carl Pohlad would donate money that in fact was in the form of a loan -- but they finally won over the public by calming their rhetoric and outlasting their opponents.

They did so in a period of financial optimism for the government, and for individual taxpayers.

This is not then. This is no time to argue that a cash-strapped government should aid in the building of a billion-dollar stadium that will benefit a billionaire.

You do not need to demonize Vikings owner Zygi Wilf to criticize the timing of this public-relations maneuver. Wilf has proved an aggressive and generous owner, and his premise, as expressed through Bagley, would have legitimacy in most years. The Vikings, like every other major sports team, will eventually either secure a cash-generating stadium, or they will attempt to leave town.

If you are not comfortable with that reality, you should find a hobby other than professional sports.

At question here is timing and tone. Bagley assailed the Republican governor of a state deep in debt during a week when the markets declined even as a $789 billion stimulus bill neared passage.

One problem with people immersed in pro sports is that they lack perspective. They spend so much time around fans and other assorted backslappers that they fail to realize that much of the populace is not emotionally invested in their well-being.

This is such a case. I would like to see the Vikings secure a stadium deal at some point. Just not this week, or this year, or in wake of poorly timed and poorly expressed threats from Wilf's hired gun.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP • jsouhan@startribune.com

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