Last week we saw the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and other concerned citizens of the Parkland, Florida area convene for a town hall meeting. They spoke critically and inquisitively to both Florida Senators, along with representatives from the police, the NRA, and others, in hopes of making their schools and communities safer after a school shooting took 17 innocent lives—of teachers, of coaches, of their classmates and friends.
On television, pundits and politicians lauded the students’ bravery, compassion, inquisitiveness, and demand for answers. The words and tears from such emotionally-wrought constituency reminded us all of the value of civil discourse so often lacking in political debate today.
And that got me thinking… what if sports teams held similar town hall events, where fans could demand answers from coaches, general managers, owners, or players, after devastating seasons or decisions? Maybe I am still fresh off of a Super Bowl loss where my head coach benched the starting defensive back who had played 98 percent of the snaps that season, but I know this would be a hit for teams across the country. Now, I’m not trying to create any type of moral equivalency between senseless murders and Super Bowl losses. But what I’m driving at is that stakeholders—constituents, fans, residents—should have opportunities to weigh in before, while, and after they cast a vote or make a purchase.
While answering to the people isn’t in a coach’s job description like it is for an elected official, I think every fan wishes they could put the decision makers on the hot seat and get some real answers.
But think about how fun it would be to see the Bill Belichicks of the world meet face to face with the Sullys from Peabody and be asked why Jimmy Garoppolo was traded for only a second round pick. Or if Marlins fans (are there fans, plural?) could ask Derek Jeter to explain how selling off his best players for nothing will help them win a championship. Or if Rick Pitino had to actually answer to how many transgressions would have to happen inside his program before he would cop to knowing about one of them. Or maybe whether he likes his Italian food fast casual, just like his restaurant hookups.
Fans are closer to players than they’ve ever been before, both physically and conversationally. Front row seats in almost every major sport inch closer and closer to the playing surface, allowing players to hear fans’ voices clearer than ever. Meanwhile, Twitter and media outlets like The Players Tribune or Uninterrupted give players a voice, connecting them directly to the masses, without the filter of journalists. Even Reddit AMAs let individuals ask their favorite celebrities burning questions.
Yet all of these leave something to be desired. Think what you want of Marco Rubio, and reports of his potential spine, but the man stood there and faced the music. He listened to jeers, attacks, and direct questions from angry, hurt constituents who wanted to hold him accountable for his positions. If a U.S. Senator has the backbone for such an event, it is not too much to ask the same from athletes, coaches, and front office staffs.
Here’s my proposal.
At the end of every season of any professional sport (still including Louisville basketball here), season ticket holders should be invited back into their seats for a town hall meeting with their team. Then, sell remaining seats with proceeds going to team’s charity of choice.
Fans can come equipped with one question, and the team can choose seats randomly for question order. Players who make a salary over league average, the top three coaches on staff, the general manager, and the team owner must be present. You can even sell beer and concessions so that the team can make more money. Everybody wins.
Maybe we still won’t get a satisfying answer out of Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott about why he started Nathan Peterman (4 INTs in one half) any more than we’ll get Marco Rubio to reject future NRA money, but it will be fun to watch him squirm. And maybe San Francisco Giants fans won’t be able to convince Madison Bumgarner to stay of dirtbikes during the baseball season (Bumgarner missed 3 months of the season in 2017 after a crash injured his pitching shoulder), but wouldn’t we all love to see that confrontation? And I don’t know if there are any burning questions about hockey, but there could be!
In such a divisive political climate, we’ve learned that fans want players to “stick to sports” but maybe sports could learn from politics… just this once.