Is Abercrombie Anti-sports?

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 22, 2011
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It seems we have a conflict between our new governor and the National Football League’s Pro Bowl, which has been held in Hawaii every year except one since 1980.

Why a conflict? It appears that Gov. Neil Abercrombie got carried away while speaking to a group of early-childhood educators, and when the question of setting priorities came up, he said, “In austere times the state has to set priorities on spending,” citing the $4 million the Hawaii Tourism Authority gave NFL to bring the Pro Bowl to Aloha Stadium in February.

He went on to point out that the Pro Bowl is an easy target because it is stupid to give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children in Hawaii. To throw more salt into the wound he had inflicted on the NFL, Abercrombie told reporters that he discounted the importance of the Pro Bowl in comparison to other economic stimuli, such as civil union ceremonies being performed here. “Please, we will get more out of civil unions in a weekend than we will get out of those guys in the NFL.”

Of course, the governor is obviously misinformed about how much revenue is generated by the Pro Bowl and civil union ceremonies, but that doesn’t matter. The question is, why would he throw away more than 30 years of goodwill with the NFL, which, make no mistake, has done a lot for Hawaii? If you don’t believe that, ask Dr. Edison Miyawaki, one of the owners of the NFL Cincinnati Bengals.

The possible truth is that the new governor didn’t look for any information about the Pro Bowl, the NFL and the conditions under which the Hawaii Tourism Authority negotiated its return to Hawaii in 2009. He obviously doesn’t care.

In another opportunity to confront the athletic community, Abercrombie suggested that he would try to take all the money for maintaining Aloha Stadium and use it for education, teachers’ pay and special education programs around the state.

His Pro Bowl comments reignited the vitriol of the Democratic gubernatorial primary because Mufi Hannemann is the current president of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association (and a fellow MidWeek contributor who also is addressing this topic this week). Mufi was involved in negotiations with the NFL and is convinced of the Pro Bowl’s importance to Hawaii. His response: “He doesn’t have a history of dealing with the NFL, so it’s going to take some education.”

In short, this means the Pro Bowl, Aloha Stadium and anything to do with athletics, including UH teams, are going to be more political from now on.

Actually, this love affair with the NFL began with Herman Clarke, one of the state’s greatest players, an All-Pro offensive line-man with the Chicago Bears. He was well-respected and sold his legendary coach George Halas on the idea with the help of Mackey Yanagisawa.

There may be a bright side to this conflict, because Hawaii should spend more time negotiating with the NFL Players Association than the NFL owners, who could probably buy Hawaii if they wanted to. It’s the pressure from the players that keeps bringing the game back to Hawaii. It’s a time when they can relax with their families in paradise.

One of the first rules in negotiating is to not talk to the monkeys, talk with the organ grinder! Our governor is talking to the wrong people. Trying to negotiate with the NFL is almost impossible because it is so powerful.

So, in the final analysis, what we have here is an intergroup conflict. This was probably the only way the new governor could get the NFL owners’ attention. Do you remember him saying, “I’m not your friend, I’m your governor”? It is the final level of conflict between organizations, ethnic groups, feuding families or within splintered fragmented communities. It is the most intricate of negotiations because of the number of people involved and how they interact with each other. It’s very complex.

Hopefully, the governor will not chase away an important part of Hawaii’s history just to remind everyone that there’s a new power at the helm and he favors civil unions and early childhood education. Now that would be really short-sighted.

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