Goldsmith: Teams sell out their fans

The Final Four in a historically entertaining March Madness is set, and if the tournament so far is any indication, we are in the midst of several great sports moments.

Tiger Woods heads to Augusta National next week to make his return to the PGA, which undoubtedly promises to be the most widely followed professional golf event in recent memory — probably ever. Yale’s own hockey team just capped off another successful season, coming up just short against Boston College, the number four team in the nation, in the NCAA Regional final.

Naturally, therefore, I see it only fitting to devote this coveted space to a passionate questioning of the Philadelphia Eagles’ decision to solicit trade offers for their franchise quarterback, Donovan McNabb.

For those less interested in such esoteric (but not really) football dealings, I promise there is a greater issue at stake here. If you are unfamiliar with his body of work, Donovan McNabb is a six-time pro-bowl quarterback, who has led the Eagles to five NFC championship games and a Superbowl during his time as the team’s unchallenged starter and unquestioned leader. To quote CBS Sports’s Mark Kriegel, “McNabb is a good husband and father. He’s never been arrested for slapping a woman or killing a dog, offenses that have inspired demonstrations of support for lesser men and much lesser quarterbacks.”

Moreover, McNabb has been the workhorse of this Eagles team for the last 10 or so years, as his receiving core has seen talent come and go, and the newly departed fragile premier back Brian Westbrook has demonstrated that he’s only good for about 10 games a season. Despite personnel changes and the distractions surrounding players like Terrell Owens and Michael Vick, McNabb has asserted himself in his role as the team’s leader, and he has not let them down in that regard. He has one more year left on his contract, he has been an Eagle his whole career, and he is a perennial fan favorite.

But at this point, it looks like he might be spending the season in Oakland, one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Sadly, this is the nature of the modern sports era. While it is a tremendous overstatement to call all owners and front offices “out of touch,” there is no denying that league structures, player contracts, salary caps and draft orders often lead major sports franchises to act with misaligned incentives.

Look no further than the recent Gilbert Arenas controversy in the NBA. Agent Zero (Agent … Six?) has let the Wizards and his fans down for the past two seasons. He spent last year out with injury and finally came back to play a few games this season before being found guilty on federal gun charges.

How did the Wizards respond? They handed Caron Butler to the Mavericks, solidifying them as a contender, maybe even the favorite, in the NBA’s western conference. They gave Antawn Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers (thank you), similarly bulwarking the chances of another NBA Finals hopeful. The worst part is that big Zydrunis Ilgauskis, a career Cavalier and Cleveland favorite, was sent to Washington, where he was not signed, allowing Cleveland to reclaim him after 30 days.

How do the owners of the Washington Wizards justify any of this to their fans? Should a front office accept that they are nothing without their star player and submit their fans to a few months of “rebuilding?” Most perversely, the ownership is probably hoping their team does poorly enough to ensure a good pick in the draft. The team traded away the best players on its roster to continue paying a player who has been suspended for the season.

The Wiz’s saga highlights only a few of the countless problems that plague the NBA, but the story is emblematic of an overall lack of accountability that ownership feels to its fan base.

Over spring break, one of the hot trade topics was Brandon Marshall’s likely departure from Denver. It’s not worth digging up the relevant statistics, but anyone who has watched the NFL over the last two or three seasons likely agrees that Marshall is one of the top five wide receivers in the league. So far his biggest courtship has come from the Seattle Seahawks, yet that organization has said it is unwilling to use its sixth overall pick to acquire the 26-year-old pro-bowler.

That makes perfect sense. Why would a franchise waste a draft pick on an untested college athlete when it has the opportunity to pick up a guy who has a professional reputation for beasting fools over the last few years as one of the most dominant receivers in the league?

My frustration on this subject is clear. I could dig up these examples all day and we wouldn’t get anywhere closer to understanding why the owners and managers of professional sports teams make the decisions that exacerbate us, the fans. Any owner is quick to justify unpopular decision making habits with the age-old cop out, “Sports are a business, and unfortunately we have to run our franchise as such.”

While this is true to a degree, sports franchises have recently shown such a baffling lack of interest in their fan bases, it is unfair to compare these owners to businessmen who actually respond to customers. The Eagles may or may not trade McNabb, but I can tell you for sure that what devoted fan Samuel Goldsmith has to say will not register in the slightest on owner Jeffrey Lurie’s radar.

Sam Goldsmith is a junior in Branford College.

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