Usually big sporting events like the upcoming Super Bowl in the City of Santa Clara are welcome distractions from our daily troubles.
But not this Super Bowl, at least not here in San Francisco. Rather than distracting us from our daily concerns, the local burden of hosting the Super Bowl is refocusing attention on our city's greatest challenge -- the fast growing gap between rich and poor.
On one side we have the NFL and their corporate sponsors insisting San Francisco taxpayers pay at least $5 million to subsidize their private events in the city, even though the Super Bowl will be played nearly 50 miles away, and even though the actual host city, Santa Clara, will be fully compensated for its out-of-pocket costs.
The league and their sponsors literally scoff at requests from local officials (like me) to compensate the taxpayers. Super Bowl officials and their supporters say that such a small amount of money should hardly be an issue at all.
On the other side we have average San Franciscans, who are being forced to pick up the tab for some of the world's wealthiest corporations. While $5 million might seem like a pittance to the wealthiest, it is the difference between eviction and a secure home for many working families. It is shelter for the homeless. It is better bus service and streetcar service. It is "real money" to most of us although it might just seem like pocket change to the corporate sponsors of the NFL.
The hard fact that the city needs to be mindful of how we spend taxpayer dollars was highlighted again this week -- with one local elected official actually calling for the removal of tent encampments now sheltering homeless individuals and families during this particularly severe winter. There was no commitment to spend what it will take to actually house these individuals and families.
Essentially some are arguing we should gladly host corporate marketing parties even as we evict homeless families from their small shelters. That is the glaring contrast highlighted during this Super Bowl debate.
Football is certainly America's sport, and San Francisco enjoys a deep love for our 49ers. The appreciation of the team is so deep that author David Talbot in his excellent political history of San Francisco, Season of the Witch, credits the 49ers' Super Bowl win after the 1981 season for uniting the city after the dangerous and divisive politics of the late 1960s and 1970s that saw Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk assassinated.
But this year, despite the love for our own team, the idea that we are picking up part of the party tab of the world's biggest marketing event is galling to many.
It is true -- $5 million is so little to the wealthiest corporations and individuals. This is the city, after all, of $10 toast and $5,000 studio apartments. Businesses and landlords command these prices and they get them.
But the rest of San Francisco gets angrier and angrier as we see our city turned into a wealth generating engine for a few, but certainly not for the many.
Big sporting events like the Super Bowl should bring people together. Sadly, this year, the event is only highlighting just how far we have grown apart.
We're happy to cheer on the players and we wish "good luck" to the fans of both the Panthers and the Broncos. But many of us can't ignore that, once again, the richest people in America are having a party and leaving the rest of us to pay the tab.