Our Sports Culture Is Sputtering

The Seattle Seahawks season is over, and the sports culture in Washington is sputtering. According to the United States Census Bureau, Washington is growing at a rate faster than the United States. Much of the growth can be attributed to people migrating from other parts of the country. With people flocking from far and wide to live in the Seattle Metro Area, it seems odd that each of Seattle’s major professional sports franchises have all made an attempt to leave within the last two decades. Like many other sports cities, Seattle’s teams have thrived financially during periods of on-field success. The Mariners, who at one time were the laughingstock of Seattle, had a great stretch from the mid-90’s to the early 2000’s, drawing fans in droves. The Seahawks, a once proud upstart franchise in the 1980’s, fell on hard times in the 1990’s, and now are the hottest ticket in town, drawing near sell-out crowds week in a week out. The Seattle Sonics, the most recent Seattle franchise to pull up the stakes on their proverbial circus tent had a four year stretch in the late 90’s where they were 651 fans short of selling out every single game, and now are seemingly standing with one foot in the moving truck, turning on the windshield wipers as an ominous cloud sets in over Key Arena. The problem that plagues Seattle sports is not that of the teams, but the fans. Being a sports fan in Seattle is not a lifestyle, but a fad. It is not a coincidence that among the most noted aspects of Safeco field is the selection of gourmet food and personal service in the Terrace and Diamond Clubs. Sporting events have become social events, and business meetings with a sports backdrop. As an example, if you type in “Yankee caskets” on google.com, the first link directs you to a story about an elderly woman who has already bought a New York Yankees casket to spend eternity in. If you type in “Mariner caskets” you are directed to a site that sells caskets shaped like boats. As hated as the Yankees are in every city outside of New York, it is undeniable that New York is the Mecca of North American Sports. Yankee fans are dedicated and have embraced the tradition of their franchise. The most noticeable uprising in Seattle is the army of “lifelong” Red Sox fans who seem to multiply daily since the Red Sox historic World Series victory in 2005. It is hard to put a finger on the fickle fan of Seattle sports. Tradition isn’t enough to keep fans around. The Sonics are the oldest franchise that current in Seattle, and they along with their WNBA affiliate, the Storm, are the only two champions presently in the city. In fact, the Sonics alone have made the playoffs more times than the Mariners and Seahawks combined. The Sonics have seen Hall of Famers and perennial All-stars all suit up in green and yellow. Also, the Sonics rivalry with the Portland Trailblazers is not only the closest, but probably the most significant professional sports rivalry in Seattle. Fortunately, the Storm was sold to a group of businesswomen from Seattle in early January, and will remain in Seattle. However, the Sonics are in limbo with no promising news in recent memory. In 1989, the Seattle Mariners were struggling to break out of a cycle of mediocrity. On April 10, 1989, a tall, lanky, 19 year old kid ran out into centerfield for the first time in the Kingdome. He wore his hat backward; he smiled, and seemed at the time, completely unaware of the politics that surrounded his team, which would later try to bolt for Florida. That kid’s name was George Kenneth Griffey Jr. That kid would go on to captivate Seattle for a decade, change the entire landscape of Seattle sports, and while he barely played there, Safeco Field will always be “The house that Griffey built,” very much in the way that Yankee Stadium is “The house that Ruth built.” A generation later Kevin Durant walked onto the Key Arena floor for the first time on November 1, 2007, taller and lankier than Griffey, but a 19 year old kid still seemingly untainted by the celebrity lifestyle. It is easy to sympathize with the callous Seattle sports fan, who certainly has acquired some abandonment issues, but that fan shouldn’t shut the door on the Sonics right now. Let Kevin Durant be “The Kid” all over again, and hopefully one day there will be an arena in Washington for which he laid the proverbial foundation.