Woody Johnson probably doesn’t spend all that much time in Belle Glade, Florida.
The owner of the New York Jets is, after all, a multi-millionaire; one who inherited Johnson & Johnson from his father and who, in 1996, paid $635 million for an NFL franchise. When he travels, Johnson usually does so either by limousine or chartered jet. He owns multiple residences, invests in myriad holdings, dabbles in various businesses.
Belle Glade, meanwhile, is one of America’s poorest cities, home to a median family income of $17,000 and a rotting sugar industry that has sapped the region of jobs and, tragically, hope. To grow up in the vast projects of Belle Glade isn’t to grow up with a couple of obstacles. It’s to grow up sans options. To the people of Belle Glade, there are no dreams of college campuses and high-level CEO positions and happily ever after.
There just … is.
This is the hometown of Jets receiver Santonio Holmes.
I am assuming Johnson has never visited Holmes’ neighborhood because, had he, there’s no way he would be throwing his support behind Mitt Romney’s presidential bid. After all, how can one stand in line at the Dixie Fried Chicken on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and back a candidate (and a party) who insists raising the minimum wage would damn the economy? How can one pass one of the endless strings of abandoned homes and back a candidate (and a party) who decided it would be best not to try and stop the foreclosure process; that people would be better served to let it run its course and hit the bottom? Lastly, how can one look at the people of Belle Glade—mostly black, mostly impoverished—and, with no sense of irony, back a candidate (and a party) who extols of the ideal of so-called “trickle down economics”; who tells the poor, hey, if the wealthy are taken care of, you’ll be taken care of, too; who demonizes and demeans welfare recipients as moochers of the American dream?
When Johnson recently stated that the importance of a Romney victory trumped that of a Jets’ victory, he evoked the ire of many Gang Green loyalists. His words, however, also gave the public a glance into one of the best-kept secrets of American professional sports: Namely, while team owners and executives depend on the performances of thousands of athletes from rough and poor upbringings, they routinely back candidates who, quite frankly, could give two damns of their plight.
Just look at the numbers. According to a recent study by WNYC, among NFL owners the top three political donors (Miami’s Stephen Ross, Houston’s Robert McNair and Johnson) have given a combined $311,600 to the Republican campaigns. Eight of the 10 NBA owners who have contributed to a presidential candidate handed their money to Romney. In baseball, Gregory Maffei of the Atlanta Braves and Robert Castellini of the Cincinnati Reds, the top two political donors in the sport, have exceeded $200,000 in GOP (and Romney) donations, according to the WNYC report. Just recently Castellini, according to baseball insiders, was livid when his manager, Dusty Baker, spoke out in support of President Obama.
Shortly after Johnson’s endorsement, Romney also received the nod from John Elway, the legendary Denver Broncos quarterback who now serves as the franchise’s executive vice president of football operations. The Hall of Famer called Romney a “proven leader with the experience and background to turn around our struggling economy,” in a statement on Tuesday. “In these tough economic times,” he said, “we need a president who understands how to get America working again—by standing on the side of taxpayers and small-business owners who do the real job creating.”
As Elway spoke, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Demaryius Thomas, the team’s best wide receiver, was listening. When he was 12, Thomas watched as police in Montrose, Georgia arrested both his mother and grandmother on charges of trafficking cocaine. Both women have been in prison since 2000, and Thomas, 12 at the time, bounced from one low-income home to another before finally settling in with an aunt and uncle. In other words, he spent the majority of his life as one of the 47 percent.
As for Johnson’s Jets, among the team’s stars are running back Shonn Greene (raised by his grandparents, who worked multiple jobs), wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (brought up in a trailer), defensive end Quinton Coples (single mother who drove buses and clean houses to feed her kids) and cornerback Darrelle Revis (brought up in Alquippa, Pa., one of the most dangerous cities in America). New York’s players are, in many cases, men who overcame great odds; whose families often depended on vital government services ranging from Medicaid to food stamps to public housing.
Government services that, in a Republican dream land, would either be sliced apart or eliminated altogether.
Because they’ve been blessed with outrageous physical skills, professional athletes have gone on to lives featuring large incomes and fancy cars and glorious Sundays. They have, in effect, won a lottery ticket.
The communities that raised them, however, are rarely so lucky.