Democracy seems like a great idea, then once every four years our TVs start blowing up with attack ads, our phones ring off the hook with Rock the Vote volunteers and our mailbox is stuffed with campaign promises. Is this really what the Founding Fathers had in mind? A ritualized disturbing of the peace? Did they imagine Super PACs, mantras of "margin of error" and windy convention speeches that occupy entire blocks of prime time? If they knew they were setting thousands of door-to-door political missionaries in motion, would they have really signed that Constitution?
Like so many things that make life worthwhile—the drinking of alcohol, the charms of Honey Boo Boo, Adam Sandler movies—democracy is best enjoyed in moderation. We can't live without these things, but the sustained application of any one of them produces needless agitation, nervous exhaustion and the jitters. It's one thing to be fully franchised, able to elect your own leader every once in a while. Quite another if your all-purpose catchphrase happens to be, "I approve this message."
Which is to ask, do we really want to conflate our sports fandom with the electoral process? Up to now, our sports franchises have been operated as fiefdoms, royal grants that serve their lords with self-esteem and parking revenue. Though aristocratic and thereby somewhat un-American, these erratic and whimsical nobles have largely been made palatable by the sheer lack of friction in the fan experience. We just pay for the parking and mostly go on with our lives. In any case, we have sports columnists and TV analysts to advance our interests, sort of like court advisers or petitioners. They have more knowledge and good sense about these complicated matters than we could ever hope to gain.
This has worked very well, George Steinbrenner and Donald Sterling and Stephen A. Smith notwithstanding. We have things to do, after all. But suddenly, the Seattle Sounders, a Major League Soccer team that is partially owned by a TV game show host, wants its fans to weigh in, to participate, to matter. Was there a Northwest Autumn we didn't hear about? Were there riots at Pike Place Market, water balloons dropped from the Space Needle, Pioneer Square running red, giant urns of cinnamon dolce latte upturned? Whatever form the revolution may have taken, Drew Carey has responded by promising Sounders fans—well, season-ticket holders and anyone who ponies up $125 a year to join the fan association anyway—the chance to vote the team's general manager out at the end of the season.
In no way can this be considered a publicity stunt. Democracy is not wielded for promotional value. If the vote has been sufficiently rocked—a minimum of 10,000 must be cast—and the majority has expressed "lack of confidence," then G.M. Adrian Hanauer will be fired from his position. That's that. The people, Carey asserts, will have spoken. As minority owner himself, Hanauer will then be responsible for assigning himself a different duty within the organization and for the printing of new business cards.
Even if this was intended as one big joke, which hardly seems likely (Hanauer, we are told, is nobody's idea of a "funny man"), it's possible to imagine the concept spreading throughout our country, fans newly emboldened, demanding rights beyond the ability to do the wave or boo an ump. Freedom is infectious. It wasn't long after this country was founded that women wanted to vote as well, if you remember. Fans across the nation will mistake the fine print on their ticket stub for a bill of rights and, as partners in democracy, just like Sounders fans, want to turn every front-office decision into an election.
Aside from the fact that this would generate tremendous amounts of chaos and paperwork, is this something we really desire? Do we really want the burdens of citizenship when it comes to following our games? There's an obligation that comes with this kind of liberty, you know; Sounders fans, for example, are now going to have to vet Adrian Hanauer for suitability to office. How many even knew who he was before this critical referendum? Do we really want to put ourselves in a position to care?
Another thing: While owners, all fat and happy with their parking revenue, are notoriously wayward and uncommitted stewards of these trusts, do you honestly think you'd be any better? Look around you: There's a man bouncing a beach ball down toward the field; here's another with a tray of six foaming cups of beer on his lap; that guy has painted his face in team colors and is waving a big foam finger (the middle one). For God's sakes, man! These are the voters!
Democracy, like the drinking of alcohol and Honey Boo Boo, may very well be necessary to our way of life, but it doesn't have to be layered onto our recreational pursuits too (well, the drinking of alcohol...). It's a good system, the best there is, but it has its downsides: bumper stickers, celebrity endorsements, jury duty. Also, and this is the most insidious disadvantage to democracy of them all, as you gain political ownership, so do you lose the right to complain.
They didn't tell you that, did they? You've not only paid for parking, you've become the moron that rehired Adrian Hanauer, and you can't raise a single objection when he raises beer prices or institutes Disco Nite. Do you approve this message now?
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
A Chinese hospital used a photo of former world-record hurdler and national hero Liu Xiang crumpled on the track after he crashed into the first hurdle at the London Olympics—accompanied by the words "Falling immediately after the start! ... men's unspeakable agony"—to promote a cure for male sexual dysfunction.
ILLUSTRATION BY DARROW
ROBERT BECK (XIANG)