The Seattle City Council recently voted against publicly funding a new stadium that would bring an NBA team back to the city. The vote was 5 to 4. All five “no” votes against came from women. All four “yes” votes for came from men. This decision sparked a venomous reaction from Seattle basketball fans, who mostly ignored the fact that the council decision was what’s best for the city.
First, the fan reaction: Seattle has always loved its basketball, but lost its team (the Supersonics) in 2008 because of the need for a new arena and the lack of funding for it. Since then, there has been a movement to bring a team back, including lobby groups like “Bring Back our Sonics.”
The recent vote stopping, or at least delaying, the NBA’s return to the city upset many of those fans, who in turn offered some sad and inappropriate reactions. Some complaints stated that this decision was why women get paid less than men. Another citizen, who actually signed his letter, told the women on city council to “quickly and painfully end yourselves.” Two local and desperately terrible radio shock jocks gave out one councilwoman’s office phone number and encouraged their listeners to call and air their complaints.
These actions put on blast just how many issues of sexism still remain in our society, even in the mostly liberal city of Seattle. Councilwoman Lorena González, who issued the deciding vote against, said:
“We have achieved a lot in the movement for women’s rights in our country, and certainly in our city, but that doesn’t mean that sexism is dead — it just means that it’s a sleeping dog, and when that sleeping dog is kicked, suddenly it bites you and you’re reminded that the dog has teeth. We cannot fool ourselves in this city, as progressive as it might be, into believing that sexism is a thing of the past because it is not.”
The days after the decision saw the mayor and a hedge fund manager, looking to bring a team to Seattle, condemn citizens’ remarks. People also visited the council chambers to speak. One lobbyist who supports bringing a team to Seattle implored the council not to let those comments cloud their judgment when making a decision. This implication — that these women will make an emotion-based decision because, well, they’re women — was echoed by others.
With all of the malice directed at the decision and the women who made it, I think it’s only fair to break down the decision they faced.
According to research performed in 2008 (the year the Seattle team moved to Oklahoma City and was renamed the Thunder), the Supersonics brought Seattle $188 million a year and generated 1,200 to 1,300 new jobs. Given that, the decision to fund a stadium seems like a slam dunk (pun intended) for the city. So why did they vote against it?
To start, the $188 million number is widely disputed, partly because it includes player salary as an investment toward the city economy (yeah … no). As far as the influx of 1200+ new jobs, studies of cities with professional sports teams found that sports franchises have a positive impact on employment only about 25 percent of the time. In fact, 20 percent of the time they have a negative impact, since areas with sports arenas would be filled with other businesses that would hire more full-time employees. (Stadium workers can be temporary employees, since the team does not play every day, year-round.)
Besides team-generated income and jobs, those who support public funding for a stadium often cite the thousands of people who will be coming, and paying, to see this team play. They will be buying tickets, eating in local restaurants, etc. While this is true, it doesn’t necessarily mean a large increase in revenue. The big money-makers, as far as tax revenue, are the taxes on out of town visitors for things like rental cars and hotels. NBA teams play 41 home regular season games a year, and mass amounts of people do not fly in for them.
These five women on the Seattle City Council recognized all this and voted against publicly funding a new stadium.
Council member Lisa Herbold said: “We showed that we are willing to vote ‘no’ if the deal being offered didn’t meet our policy objectives. Some men aren’t used to women acting as tough negotiators to get what they want. They expect us to be conciliatory.”
González told the New York Times: “The fact that it was five women who tipped the vote to prevent this land use action from occurring, I think, just scratched the surface of what we know is a still unfortunately very, very strong sentiment of sexism out there. My hope is that the men who are engaging in this vitriolic behavior will understand that it needs to end.”
She continued: “This particular issue will ultimately calm down, at least for a little bit, but I think the bigger question is: ‘What does it say about us as a city?’”
Sadly, this type of behavior isn’t confined to Seattle. Women in power everywhere are questioned on their decision-making strictly because of their gender. But these five women held strong in their beliefs and in their position as councilmembers. They entered a lose-lose situation, where voting against the stadium would be met with hate and voting for the stadium would mean irresponsible allocation of taxpayer money. But they were elected to make decisions in the best interest of the city. And they did.
The city of Seattle should be grateful.
The five councilwomen wrote an op-ed piece about this issue, and they say it best:
“To belittle our votes and policy considerations as ‘emotional and naïve’ is not only an insult to women, it impacts our community. The misogynistic backlash to our vote is an attempt to communicate a dangerous message: Elected women in Seattle do not deserve the respect necessary to make tough decisions without the fear of violence and racially and sexually charged retaliation.
There are women across our city and nation who are abused, insulted, belittled and exploited at home or work. Their stories rarely make news. We stand in solidarity with them.
Make no mistake: We are not deterred. We will not be silenced with threats, not today, not tomorrow and not ever. We are confident the majority of Seattleites understand the malicious intent of these few misanthropes: to use fear and shame to silence and control.
To this we say: Women of Seattle, you are valued. Women from around the country, joined by men, have led the call for solidarity. The messages of solidarity and support we have received in the days since the vote have proved that the negative voices truly are on the losing side of history. Don’t allow the hateful voices of a few intimidate you into silence or inaction.
As for the five of us, we may not always agree on policy issues in the future, but on this we agree: We must and will take a stand against misogyny and other hateful rhetoric.
We invite you to stand with us.”