The History Channel did inspire me to write what I've settled on, though.* The other thing they were running last night was a documentary on the plague. As a cultural historian, this was right up my alley. They did have a little bit on how they've definitively nailed down a strain of bubonic plague as the culprit and how epidemics spread, which was interesting as well. But, it would probably be more interesting to somebody who considered themselves more of an environmental historian, like my good buddy Jesse James.** To get back to the point, most of the documentary focused on how society more or less broke down during the outbreak. The Catholic Church found itself ineffectual to the cries for help and mercy. And, according to your average person in that era, it was the Church's problem, mostly because germ theory hadn't been developed yet.
*I didn't specifically say the crucifixion thing was on History, but you probably guessed. Also, don't ask me what I was expecting with crucifixion. I mean, it's not like it's a big secret about how brutal and torturous it was. Seeing some crazy Filipinos actually put themselves through a non-lethal version, though, was more than I bargained for. That's for sure. And I don't mean non-lethal in the way that you would see in your local church's passion play. I mean the crazy bastards actually put nails through their hands and and feet and put the crosses in the air, then get taken down and carried away before they can die. AND THIS DRAWS TOURISTS! People are a fucked species.
**Of course, Jesse probably considers himself more politician/lawyer these days. Probably always did. But, I sat through more than one history class with him. I know what I heard. And I know what I won't print here to further damage his political aspirations.
And, because my mind wanders in directions it maybe shouldn't, that got me thinking about important civil institutions that aren't technically civil institutions. It's a bit in a different vein, but sports teams are much like that. People are deeply attached to their teams, and generally that attachment goes by where you live. Most people take a lot of pride in their local teams and their local stadiums. And with one important exception, all of these local institutions are owned by somebody who is not the government.
Now, granted, local and state governments have always had a little skin in the game. Very rarely have stadiums ever been built solely with owner money. Granted, it used to be that the team would rent out whatever the most suitable stadium the city had to offer, which is a bit different than getting all sorts of tax breaks and tax hikes going directly to building the latest coliseum. But, it's an investment all the same. And, as any average Roman would tell you, bread and circuses are an important part of civilized society. If you don't entertain your people, there's a decent chance they'll revolt out of boredom.
So, just in Indianapolis, we get the Pacers and the (still) top-notch Fieldhouse. We have the Indianapolis Indians, who play in (still) arguably the best stadium in minor league baseball. And, in an interesting topic in this debate, we lured the Colts away from Baltimore and gave them a great-at-the-time stadium. And have since built another state-of-the-art stadium using those same tax tricks mentioned above.
Obviously, Baltimore did not own the Colts, and as such, they were technically free to move. Was is morally the right thing to do? Various books and documentaries would have you believe that it was not. Maybe it's because I'm from Indiana, but I would say things all worked out in the end, since they more or less did the same thing to Cleveland. But, and here is the important part, did we have to take the Colts name? I think that was a major misstep that the NFL did a nice job of finding a solution to when the Cleveland situation arose. While the team and the franchise might be free to move, the Colts should have stayed in Baltimore. And when they did get another team, they should have been able to use the Colts name and adopt the Baltimore history.
Now, this wasn't always quite as big of a deal, because sport wasn't always the multi-billion dollar industry and 24-hour news cycle that it has become. And in those less serious times, there have been some teams that have taken on a bit of a vagabond identity. Look at the A's. They've gone from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland, and now maybe San Jose.* In basketball, the Rochester Royals became the Cincinnati Royals, became the Kansas City Kings, and now the Sacramento Kings. And maybe now the Anaheim Kings. And the Buffalo Braves became the San Diego Clippers, and now the LA Clippers. Teams with that background don't generate quite the same kind of fury as teams that have truly become connected with their city. Teams like the Colts. The Browns. The Super Sonics.
*But maybe not, because the Giants say that's moving into their back yard. I don't really know if it's any more back yard than being able to see the A's stadium from the Giants' stadium, but that's the argument. So the A's might be in for an even bigger move than originally planned.
This is one area that, Bud Selig or no Bud Selig, baseball tends to do better with. Maybe because the teams are older and generally more entrenched than basketball or football teams. The only team that's moved in my lifetime was the Montreal Expos. And, frankly, take a look in the stands at those games the last decade in Canada would tell you why. Clearly, Montreal wasn't going to notice the loss of the Expos. But if a team like the Cubs or Cardinals, or one of the New York teams were to move? That would be a travesty. And, luckily enough, we have a good example of that. The Giants and Dodgers, as you might be aware, were once New York teams. It was probably a good move for baseball to put some teams out on the west coast, but if they had to do it over again, MLB would probably handle things a bit differently.*
*Actually, the St. Louis Browns were going to be the first west coast team, but Pearl Harbor changed those plans. You now know the Browns as the Baltimore Orioles. Notice the name change?
Anyway, it's just interesting to me how teams become so entrenched in their communities, and yet, in many cases, the community has no real sway over the team. I wonder if there will come a day when most teams will follow the Green Bay model. You have to admit, being publicly owned hasn't hurt them the past several years.