POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 22, 2011
Neil Abercrombie has a long history of bluntly and loudly questioning authority and taking non-establishment points of view. That’s what you do when you’re a campus activist.
It’s also often appropriate behavior for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, when your constituents expect your voice to resonate above those of your 400-plus peers in Washington, D.C.
But if you ARE in authority, things are much different. You still question, but in a much different manner than Abercrombie did when he ripped the NFL earlier this month. Now we wonder if his tirade severs Hawaii’s already tenuous hold on Pro Bowls after 2012.
As a close observer of our state’s governor and this situation told me, “When you’re the boss you can’t act like a crazy man. You have to be the consensus builder.”
Well, in a roundabout way, maybe Abercrombie has unintentionally done just that. His rant regarding the $4 million the NFL gets from Hawaii to host the Pro Bowl raised a good question (though not a new one): Is it worth it? The overwhelming answer from just about every corner in the state: Yes. A few holdouts short of consensus, but close enough.
The backlash was overwhelming. So much so that Abercrombie, who rarely uses the reverse gear, did so in a TV news interview a few days later, saying, “I think it’s a great benefit, no question about that,” when asked if the game should remain here.
IN FEBRUARY, when the Pro Bowl was in town, I applauded questioning of this expenditure; $4 million is a big chunk, especially when you’re a cool billion in the hole. But there are better ways for a governor to get his answers than by going off at a news conference intended to promote a totally unrelated new project of his.
If you’re skeptical about the return on investment reported by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, have the numbers audited. I think the Pro Bowl is worthwhile, and that the HTA is pretty good at what it does, which is marketing tourism. But I also don’t believe you should blindly trust self-promotional press releases; if your teachers let you fill out your own report cards do you think you might have gotten a few more A’s?
The HTA is in the process of doing what it should have in the first place. A spokesperson said it is “gathering information to give a clearer view of the benefit and value of the Pro Bowl.” Citizens have a right (and in Abercrombie’s case, a responsibility) to question such a large outlay.
One thing Abercrombie said that most of us can agree with is that the NFL doesn’t really need that $4 million when it already makes $9 billion a year.
So why does it get it? Because it can.
Because in 2010, they played the Pro Bowl in Miami instead of Hawaii, and the world didn’t come to an end.
Because a lot of folks in Hawaii think it’s worth it, and overall the NFL experience is a positive one, economically and otherwise.
Because nearly 50,000 fans fill Aloha Stadium to see what Abercrombie called a scrimmage (perhaps charitably, most scrimmages feature harder hitting).
THE GOVERNOR has big plans for the stadium, but they have nothing to do with luxury boxes and other improvements the NFL would like. He doesn’t want to fix it up, he wants to blow it up ... and that means building a new one somewhere else. A new stadium authority board of his choosing would grease the skids on all of this.
But those asked to resign might hold their ground — good on them; the stadium authority isn’t supposed to be a rubber stamp, even for the governor.
The University of Hawaii has been quiet amid all this. Before being elected, Abercrombie said he wanted UH to run the stadium, which has been the wish of many Warriors football supporters for many years. Cut out the middle man, they say. Why should the state’s team pay to play in a state facility that was built for it?
Seems to make sense.
But you can’t blame UH for being hesitant. There’s no assurance of getting enough money from the Legislature to maintain the facility, which is closing in on 40 years old. When it comes to stadiums, 40 is the new dead.
Regrettably, that may also be the status of Hawaii’s relationship with the Pro Bowl after 2012.