Hearts and Minds not Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

Mayor Herrington’s recent proposal for a new football stadium in Memphis, paints a grim picture of his vision for the future of the city. The notion that a new and possibly unnecessary sporting venue could make any impact on the severe divisions within the city highlights the lack of leadership that has been the hallmark of his tenure.

There are financial arguments for and against a new football stadium, and those arguments, while valid, offer little to address the racial, economic and social problems that should be at the center of the mayor’s proposals for his coming months and possibly years in office.

The sad reality iss that the city of Memphis needs healing not hot dogs. We need to heal the racial divide that inhibits the potential of this great city. We need to heal the economic disparity that subjugates so many to a life of poverty and need. We need to fight the culture of corruption and cronyism that has been the hallmark of local government for longer than anyone alive can possibly remember. Memphis needs all of these things, long before another huge construction project with multi-million dollar cost overruns.

Understand me, I am not some bookish egghead that hates all that sport represents (not that there’s anything wrong with bookish eggheads), I’m a confirmed and admitted sports junkie. I spend nearly as much time following sports as I do politics. In my mind, the two are quite similar, and complimentary. No, this isn’t some indictment of sport per se, but an indictment of the lack of leadership and vision that I have observed by our leaders since I moved here nearly 3 years ago.

In the absence of any inspirational vision or even practical knowledge of how to combat instead of exploiting the challenges that face our city, a new venue for sport seems like a good idea. Building great monuments has long been a device of those who sought to quell the growing chorus of dissatisfaction. But one only need look to the Pyramid, now closed, or soon to be, and the Forum to recognize that this kind of idolatry offers fleeting satisfaction.

Secondly, one must ponder the message that such monuments convey to the local community. There is some merit to the argument that such projects can unite a community around a common aim. To this argument I agree, with one exception; It must be disheartening for those in need to see such works erected, largely for the entertainment of the wealthy, when they have so much need.

Finally, I think it’s important to note that I understand the financial side of this situation. Building a new stadium may be more cost effective than renovating the Liberty Bowl. Certainly, for a city with as many financial challenges as Memphis, avoiding potential legal proceedings from groups who are either more interested in making a point, or a profit, makes good sense to me. Additionally, providing a venue where access and all the appointments of luxury are available has a certain sexyness that self-evaluation, discovery, and social healing lacks. Still one must not underestimate the positive power and influence that these humble but self-affirming actions can have on both a community and the individuals that make up the community.

My friend Zig Ziglar says, “Beauty is skin deep, but ugly goes straight to the bone”. We may actually need a new stadium, but for the Mayor to present such a project as one of the most important things in a city that ranks in the top five for crime, obesity, and poverty seems unconscionable. My hope is that, stadium or not, our leaders work together to heal the deep wounds that divide and distract us so that we can all work together for a more peaceful and prosperous Memphis. On that we can all share in…one that can be a model of tolerance for the nation and the world.


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