Years ago, I enjoyed watching sports and going to sporting events of my favorite teams—the Mariners and Seahawks in Seattle. I even worked part-time at the Mariners’ games taking care of promotional contest boxes in the 90s. I liked to go to work extra early and make sure all the kiosks were in order and clean. Then before the doors opened, I had some time to go sit inside behind home or third base sections and watch them practice. Once the doors opened for the fans, I would go back to work.
I was sitting in the Kingdome watching the player’s practice the day four ceiling tiles fell 180 feet from the ceiling and crashed into the seats behind home plate. All this time I thought it was strange, that while I was sitting one section over from where they fell, I didn’t hear anything. I assumed the sound must have been like when the batted baseballs hit into the empty seats during practice. In the mostly empty Kingdome during that time, the sound of the balls hitting the seats ricocheted and echoed all around me.
Today I learned the tiles came down before practice. I didn’t know anything about the tiles that day, until a news person followed by her camera crew came off the field and hurried up the aisle next to me. As she rushed by my seat, I heard her say, “If there’s one more breaking story…” I turned around to see what people were pointing at on the ceiling. The camera operator was intent on filming whatever it was. I could not see anything unusual from where I sat—a large speaker obscured the view. I got up and moved up the aisle and saw a tile dangling from ceiling and a few tiles that had crashed down on the seats. All I could think was, thank goodness, this happened before the doors opened and the seats were full of people.
Meanwhile down on the field, the Mariners’ coaches, managers, umpire, Ken Griffey Jr. and others were discussing whether to call the game. As I watched their discussion on the field, I couldn’t help but think—what part about the ceiling falling don’t you understand. Of course, you have to call the game and check the structure, if more tiles fall, someone could be severely hurt or killed. They didn’t ask for my opinion, why would they? However, I watched as they took their time trying to resolve what to do. I decided to leave the area in case more tiles broke loose. Outside in the breezeway, I waited with others for the verdict, wondering if we would stay at work, or be sent home.
The officials finally decided to call the game. The disconnect from the safety of people vs the-game-must-go-on amazed me. I was further astounded when Griffey later said, “They canceled the game for that? Hey, nobody was bitching when the roof was leaking and I was slipping and sliding out there in center field. Just put a sign at the gates saying ‘Enter at your own risk’ and let ‘em come on in.”
The worst part about this disaster-in-waiting was officials of the Kingdome, King County, and Mariners knew that those tiles had been compromised (from work done on the roof that caused it to leak) before the season opener that year. They made a few repairs but they did not have a full inspection to be sure there was no risk. Had they done so, the game would be played solely on the road and I wouldn’t have been sitting inside the day the tiles came tumbling down.
Until I was searching for the facts behind this story (not relying on just my memory), I didn’t know they opened the season with full knowledge of the risk that those tiles could fall at any moment. Even on the day, and after the first tiles fell, they allowed the players and the rest of us into the area. It appears they most likely would have let the game go on. I don’t know who finally decided to call the game off, but up until that moment, it appears officials had turned a blind eye to the problem months before those tiles fell and even after. I had no idea that when I went to work that season I was at grave risk every time I walked under the dome of tiles.
That was the beginning of my doing a double-take on the world of sports. Until that day, I was an innocent about how the world of big business sports worked. Granted, I thought the big salaries of some of the players were excessive, but I chose not to think much about it. I enjoyed the game and ignored the extreme disproportion of salaries.
After the day the tiles fell, King County spent 51 million dollars to fix the dome and two people lost their lives when a crane fell while they were removing the tiles. Six years later, the county demolished the dome with 120 million still owed on it. Amidst all the chaos, we had sports teams threatening to leave the region and voters voting down building a new stadium.
It became clear that professional sports receive far more importance in our lives than it deserves. Government wanting its citizens to pay for a new building while the older one still had millions owed, when we had schools closing, fire and police departments in need, and an infrastructure that needed attention and money, is the height of absurdity. In my opinion, it was not the time to build a structure for entertainment purposes when the sports team could very well pay for it themselves. Big businesses with enough money to pay millions to their prize players, should build their own stadiums.
Where are our priorities? In my eyes, public money should be spent on our infrastructure, our citizens, our children, and our poor. Even after King County voters said no to the new sports arenas, politicians went ahead and funded it any way. Professional sports—an entertainment business—should never, ever take away from our region’s needs. When we cater to big business and let our infrastructure fail, our schools decay and our police and fire department go without key staff and equipment, what does that say about us, and our priorities?
I quit following sports, I quit talking about it, I quit, period. It has been hard some years; I did watch the Seahawks in the Super Bowl one year with my father who was dying of cancer. This year the only excitement I have over the Seahawks winning and going on to the Super Bowl is seeing a photo put up on Facebook, when my niece and her husband appeared on TV during the game. I can no longer support professional sports, their lack of ethics, goes against my sense of doing the right thing.
I do not wish to rain on anyone’s parade for following sports. I know how important it is for some. However, for me there is no morality in supporting big business in bed with the government when we have life needs being slashed and burned. Astounded by the absurdness—the inequality baffles me. Does it baffle you?