BY STEVE BRENNER
An NFL battle is raging off the pitch which could trump anything unleashed on it.
Ever since Los Angeles – the second biggest media market in the United States behind New York – lost the Rams and the Raiders to St Louis and Oakland respectively in 1995, there has been endless , and fruitless , chat about both returning.
Crumbling stadiums and dwindling support sent the franchises packing in the first place.
Yet, 20 years on and with the debate refusing to wilt, finally, there are tangible , realistic options which have enough weight to convince commissioner Roger Goodell , who wants League revenue up from $12 billion to $20 billion , now is the time.
Just to make matter even more confusing however, the St Louis Rams, who were previously the LA Rams and have a rich history in Southern California, are also interested in joining the party.
At most, one stadium will be built – LA will not have three teams. That, however, hasn’t deterred anyone.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke, the majority shareholder at Arsenal, has bought a 60 acre plot of land in Inglewood which he’s proposing to transform into an all-purpose $1.8 billion, 80,000 capacity arena which, ostensibly, could also cater for MLS .
Perfect timing considering a new LA team will be in action within the next two years.
As Gunners supporters will wholeheartedly agree, there are no flies on Silent Stan.
Yet, where the moves from Oakland and San Diego are centered on the problems of decaying stadia which would be solved by owners Mark Davis and Dean Spanos joining forces to have both playing in a new $1.7 billion two team stadium in Carson , home of the LA Galaxy, Kroenke wants to completely uproot the Rams.
Unsurprisingly, the city of St Louis and its sports mad inhabitants are not happy.
As per normal, the reclusive 68 year-old has kept all cards slapped firmly to his chest.
He sees moving to LA as a total no brainer. It would , of course, rip the heart out of the St Louis fan base. The Ram supremo, however, couldn’t care less.
“It’s a delicate situation, “ said Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. “We’re all partners and the positive is, we have good opportunities in L.A. “We’ve got two very viable stadium options. There’s still work to be done, but I think it bodes well for the NFL.”
There is once school of thought who believe Kroenke could be in cahoots with fellow owners to swap franchises, therefore moving someone else and their poor old fan base to Southern California , thus eliminating his standing as Public enemy no1 in Missouri.
While Oakland and San Diego fans are fighting for their clubs, there were no rock-solid alternatives produced to the NFL committee which met this week in Chicago to hear prospective plans.
Deadlines are fast approaching though hopes are receding for both to stay in their respective markets. Oakland city officials are so detached from the Raiders at present , they weren’t even invited to the meetings.
The amount of public funding has driven a wedge between them. If Oakland can’t produce $400 million of public money to help fund a new stadium, the privately funded project in Carson will go-ahead.
St Louis have the most concrete plans yet , once again, arguments over finances are continuing to put a spanner in the works. It’s an administrative nightmare , one which will never have everyone pulling in the right direction.
The fans who were left heartbroken in 1987 when the Cardinals were moved to Arizona are steeling themselves for more pain although , at present, it appears most likely that the Chargers and the Raiders will move south while the Rams will remain in their current location.
Interestingly, there are some who don’t want the Raiders back. The association of violence which came following the explosion of rap artists who used the intimidating club crest to promote their music in the mid 1980’s has not dispersed over the years.
Regarding the whole picture, it’s a veritable minefield scattered with myriad variables : The cities involved, the current fan bases, the owners, the prospective stadium plans, the rest of the NFL as well as legal and environmental considerations which come with building huge new arenas.
Furthermore, can the NFL sustain two teams, never mind three, in Los Angeles?
Some owners want the teams in place in time for the 2016 season. That’s optimistic considering final decisions will not be made until after the New Year.
Any new stadia won’t be ready until 2018 so temporary homes could be used.
A League which embraces a single entity structure hell-bent on keeping all owners happy is now fighting furiously to avoid noses being firmly being put out of joint.
LeBron James loves giving something back.
The NBA All-Star has never forgotten his challenging roots so it was perhaps no surprise to hear the Cleveland Cavalier announce a plan to give children from his hometown the chance of going to university for free.
James has teamed up with the University of Akron to provide a guaranteed four-year scholarship to the school for students of his I Promise program who qualify. The scholarship will cover tuition and the university’s general service fee — currently $9,500 per year.
Around 2,300 children could benefit thanks to the multi-millionaire who describes himself as ‘just a kid from Akron.’
“It’s the reason I do what I do, ” said James.
“These students have big dreams, and I’m happy to do everything I can to help them get there. They’re going to have to earn it, but I’m excited to see what these kids can accomplish knowing that college is in their futures.
“It means so much because, as a kid growing up in the inner city and a lot of African-American kids, you don’t really think past high school.
“You don’t really know your future. You hear high school all the time, and you graduate high school, and then you never think past that because either it’s not possible or your family’s not financially stable to even be able to support a kid going to college.”
The students won’t be given anything on a silver platter – they need to graduate from high school in Akron, achieve standard testing requirements, and fulfill a community service obligation.
Baseball is without doubt one of the most fan friendly sports in the world yet, sometimes, things can badly backfire.
When balls fly in the crowds they are gleefully gobbled up with no need to throw them back. Indeed, at the end of innings, fielders routinely launch baseballs into the stand.
Yet during the New Yankees’ match with the in-form Toronto Blue Jays, some players had endured enough. First , NY infielder Brett Gardner was smacked on the head after a fan threw a Jose Bautista homerun back onto the field. Whenever a visiting player hits a homer, the Bronx fans return it instantly.
And then , at the top of the ninth, star batter Mark Teixeira was crunched by a fan who tried to get a ball which bounced near the home dug-out. Teixeira was furious and let rip, yet Gardner took everything in his stride.
“The home run was hit so far I didn’t know how far the ball got thrown. It wasn’t like it was coming from the second row.But I have a hard head so it’s all good, “ he said
“You can insult. You can’t assault, “ added Teixeira. “Keep it to insults.”