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Sports

LA Still Doesn't Need the NFL

It's been twenty years since the Raiders and Rams left. Two decades of swirling rumors. The time for the NFL to return to Los Angeles is not now: it's never.
September 3, 2014, 5:40pm
Photo by InSapphoWeTrust via Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note: On Monday, Rams owner Stan Kroekne announced plans to build a football stadium adjacent to the Forum in Inglewood, California with the idea of moving the Rams back to L.A. He is not the first person to tease taxpayers with the notion of the NFL's return to Los Angeles. And he will almost certainly not be the last. 

Professional football came to Los Angeles in 1926. Well, not exactly. The city gained two teams that year: the Buccaneers of the National Football League and the Wildcats of the upstart American Football League.

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Unfortunately, neither franchise ever played a single game in Los Angeles: in the days before jet travel, going to the West Coast and back to the East in a week's time was unfeasible. So the Buccaneers and Wildcats played exclusively road games. Both teams disbanded after just one season.

Professional football has a long history of not working in LA. After the Buccaneers and Wildcats came other failures like the Bulldogs, the Dons (owned by Hollywood star Don Ameche, obviously), the Sun, and the Express. Then came the Rams and the Raiders.

This season marks the twentieth since their departure from LA. For two decades, America's second-largest city has gone unrepresented in its most popular sports league. The question Angelenos should be asking themselves is this: How do we make it 20 more?

There are practical reasons and spiritual reasons why LA is better off without the NFL. We'll start with the practical: there are already two major college football programs in town, and one of them—USC—has basically been a pro team for the last 50 years anyway.

The two NFL stadium proposals that have been floated recently by developers are essentially science fiction. One, a 75,000 person stadium with a retractable roof right in the middle of downtown, is a pipe dream: the equivalent of trying to stuff a massive square peg into a tiny round hole. The other, a giant stadium way out in the suburbs—the City of Industry—is essentially doubling down on LA's existing problems with sprawl.

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Meanwhile, both the Rams and the Raiders have engaged their present homes in deplorable blackmail over stadium upgrades. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has gone so far as to buy hundreds of acres in Inglewood as a negotiating tactic with regional governments in and around St. Louis. The Davis family, meanwhile, is squeezing the city of Oakland for free land and $120 million taxpayer dollars for a new stadium.

Which leads us to the spiritual: LA simply does not need that shit. A city that gets bullied by billionaires over sports is a city that does not have its priorities in order. It is a city with identity problems, uncomfortable in its own skin. When the Rams and Raiders left LA, they did not leave a void, because the metropolis grew into that abandoned space. The people turned back to USC and UCLA, they turned again to the Lakers and Dodgers and Kings. They turned away from sports.

All the usual talking points about economic growth and urban pride are just propaganda. One massive construction project is not a foundation for long-term employment. Eight home games a year are not enough to justify bowing down before a greedy new owner, and the gang of billionaires led by Roger Goodell that will accompany him or her into the city. Real city pride doesn't come from a sports team anyway: it comes from people.

The NFL is a spectacle league. We come on Sundays for big things: outsized personalities, spectacular athleticism, violence in very high definition. These are what America craves. We love to watch receivers laid out over the middle, and we love to watch quarterbacks crumble inside a collapsing pocket like poor little helpless animals.

But LA already has plenty of spectacle, athletic and otherwise. It also has televisions, millions of them, which are the best way to watch football anyway. Home games are overrated.