Night and day with Greg Mortenson and Stan Kroenke

What a study in contrasts.  This evening we went to hear Greg Mortenson speak. He’s the innovative humanitarian who has brought education to girls in Afghanistan, where the Taliban had previously forbidden them to go to school.

Stan Kroenke
Stan Kroenke

Mortenson’s speech  followed a day when we learned that one Stan Kroenke (the minority owner of the St. Louis Rams) is “greenmailing” Shahid Khan, the prospective buyer of the football team.  For those who are not football fans and just want the skinny on “capitalist gone wild,” the bottom line is that Kroenke is pushing every possibly legal loophole to the limit to line his pockets and threaten Ram fans (and there are some) with moving the team elsewhere in 2015.  His real goals may be more modest, perhaps just extorting another $50 to $90 million dollars from Mr. Khan to live up to a “gentleman’s agreement.”  As St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bryan Burwell says,

As far as I can tell, what we have learned about Kroenke is that every move he makes is straight out of a Machiavellian playbook.

I wonder how Greg Mortenson and Stan Kroenke will sleep tonight.  Mortenson may have pocketed more money between 8 and 10 pm tonight.  I’m sure the speaker’s fee for the Maryville /Powell Hall series is considerable. But  unlike what we might expect from Kroenke, I doubt that Mortenson’s fee will go to buy another home, a yacht, or another sports team.  Rather, he may be thinking about starting another school or two with the fee, or perhaps replenishing existing ones with basic supplies such as paper and pencil.  He may be wondering how to keep his schools safe from the Taliban.

Does Mr. Kroenke quickly fall into REM sleep without a care in the world?  His march up the Fortune 400 list of the wealthiest individuals in the United States (he’s currently at number 113) perhaps moving up a notch or two?   Does he think about when he’ll emerge from the shadows of uncertainty and drop a few ambiguous hints about what he really has in mind?  Does the word “gotcha” cross his eyelids before he falls asleep?

St. Louis radio host McGraw Milhaven (KTRS-550AM) is asking fans to boycott Rams games if, by the start of Thursday’s draft, Kroenke doesn’t make some kind of statement about keeping the team in St. Louis..  But that may be just what Kroenke wants, a reason to leave St. Louis and return the Rams to Los Angeles, a market more than four times the size of St. Louis.

Mr. Kroenke has some other inviting financial targets.  Let’s not forget that he’s married to Anne Walton; yes, from that family; she’s a Wal-Mart heiress.  Kroenke has made much of his fortune in real estate, where he specializes in building developments in which Wal-Mart is the anchor store.  In theory it might be helpful to boycott Wal-Mart and the shopping centers where they reside, but it’s a somewhat absurd suggestion from the Occasional Planet:  We probably have as many readers who shop at Wal-Mart as there were people in the audience for Greg Mortenson who don’t listen to NPR.

So what is the solution?  Perhaps it lies four hundred twenty miles north of St. Louis in a town with a population just a shade more than 100,000.  It’s called “Title Town, USA, ” aka Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Their professional football team, the Packers, is the only community-owned major league professional franchise in the United States.   Since 1919, the team has thrilled the fans of Green Bay and brought the small community a dozen NFL titles.  How can a community so small be so supportive of a team?  Perhaps it’s loyalty that only comes from the security of knowing that no one is taking your team from your town, and that you as a fan, have a personal investment in the well-being of the team.  If all professional teams were community owned, the blackmailing of fan loyalty and tax dollars would stop, period.

That’s more than four hundred twenty miles from Stan Kroenke.  The contrast between Mr. Kroenke and Mr. Mortenson goes to fundamental questions in our society.  Kroenke is a walking advertisement for us to take from the private sector that which properly belongs to the public.  Mortenson is a walking advertisement for what an individual can do to help a community without government assistance.

Wherever we draw the line along the private/public continuum, the system will work only as well as the people in it. .  More power to Greg Mortenson: Thanks for reminding us of the good that one person can do.