Sports arguments compensate for our powerlessness. We will never be permitted on the playing field, court or ice to change the outcome of the game – and even if we were, we’d be toast – so we soothe our nerves by preemptively doubting the efficacy of a play, screaming at it as it happens and second-guessing the whole thing when it’s done. Then, because God is unfair, we lose anyway. The loser has even more reason to argue, if only because a verbal battle prosecuted on its behalf is the only thing his team can win anyway.
Each asshole’s sports kingdom doesn’t exist in a vacuum, however. If sports were the only criterion, then the worst owner would be the one with the worst winning percentage every year. These people live in the real world, too. They bilk the public for tax breaks, exemptions and steep discounts on policing; they ignore impact and destroy surrounding infrastructure; they hold municipalities hostage; and they sit on their asses and reap millions annually in shared revenue while plundering young men (often of color and often from poor backgrounds) of their health and condemning them for wearing baggy pants, having tattoos, being “greedy” and “wrecking the game.”
As such, the correct answer to who is the worst owner in sports is all of them. Unfortunately, pulling the ripcord here and floating out of the frame is not a practical response. This is not ‘Nam; this is a listicle. There are rules. The following are the worst owners in American sports, in more or less increasing levels of boobery, mismanagement and personal/social vileness.
Charles Wang, New York Islanders
Wang could almost be replaced here with Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment for their commitment to simultaneously beclown four different sports franchises, but they’ve recently murmured the right things about using advanced hockey stats. Also, the Leafs aren’t moving.
In 2006, Wang used a statistical outlier season to sign a goalie to an astonishingly ludicrous 15-year $67.5 million contract. (The team finally bought out the contract in 2013.) He hired Neil Smith as general manager, fired him 40 days later and replaced him with a backup goalie. For the day-to-day operations, he created an absurd executive structure that routed all personnel decisions through a committee that included non-hockey people who had no idea how to scout, manage or evaluate personnel. Lastly, he’s watching the Islanders vacate their home to move to Brooklyn because, aw, shucks, somehow a guy with a lot of money who knew a lot of other people with a lot of money couldn’t get an affordable deal worked out. Insert shrugging emoticon here. He’s technically still the owner, so Long Island can technically still tell him to fuck off while his franchise chuckles its way to a tonier location.
The Wilpons, New York Mets
The Wilpons are the only baseball ownership group to share a factoid with the nation of Albania, in that they were both nearly ruined by a Ponzi scheme. Twice.
The Wilpons repeatedly structured deferred payments into player contractsand handed over the funds to fraudster and family friend Bernie Madoff to invest in the meantime, making money before the bills came due. Whoops. They also built the cavernous Citi Field at the tail end of a high-offense era, then were surprised to find that fans were pissed they didn’t get to see any dingers. At the same time, Fred Wilpon is so enamored of old Ebbets Field – he played with Sandy Koufax in high school – that he designed Citi Field to celebrate Ebbets and was further surprised when Mets fans suggested he should think of having any Mets memorabilia there instead.
Thanks to wise investment, the Wilpons have lived on a shoestring budget for six years, taking profits from their ownership in SNY to make up team shortfalls and hoping that a tight budget and crossed fingers can arrest the team cratering that began in 2009. The Wilpons have seemingly never met a problem for which an absence of a solution will do, unless they have a solution worse than the problem, and that solution is invariably “them.” As a distraction, they’ve repeatedly used the Daily News as their mouthpiece to trash players and deflect attention from complaints. The limits of that strategy were exposed when a former team executive sued Jeff Wilpon for allegedly firing her for having a baby out of wedlock.
The Ricketts Family, Chicago Cubs
The Ricketts have rehabilitated themselves in the last few years by making smart moves, like hiring Theo Epstein as president of baseball ops and Joe Maddon as manager. But these are all moves they want to get almost anyone but them to pay for: They demanded $150 million in public subsidies in addition to a cut of amusement-tax revenue in perpetuity. They went to war against rooftop owners across from Wrigley for the ability to put up billboards to “fund renovations” that they could easily fund out-of-pocket instead, then floated a minority share ownership scheme because, hey, other suckers!
During the 2012 election, they funded a colossally stupid Jeremiah Wright attack ad complete with a casting call for a “Metrosexual Black Abe Lincoln.” The ad was never completed. Maybe they’d have more spending cash if they didn’t also fund Dinesh “Thank God I’m Not in Gen-Pop!” D’Souza’s shithead book and even more incompetent documentary. Lastly, despite telegenic public tiffs with Hizzoner Rahm Emanuel that pit entrepreneurs against the predation of BIG GUBMINT, the family that made its money off securities and online brokerage is otherwise behind-the-scenes chummy with that union-busting creep who just got dinged for accepting illegal donations from pension managers.
Woody Johnson, New York Jets
The Woodster made his money the old fashioned way, by being the great-grandson of the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson. He was so inspired by his history of personal toil that he spent 2012 backing Mitt Romney and emitting poor-shaming thinkbarf about people who don’t work hard. Recently he hosted a get-together of high-powered Republican fundraisers at his Metropolis-esque New York City penthouse to listen to whether bullying, still barely unindicted dickhead Chris Christie or Rand “I Don’t Believe in the Civil Rights Act” Paul would be better at talking to minorities and poor people. As for crimes against sports, it’s worth mentioning that the team he owns is the New York Jets.
Jerry Richardson, Carolina Panthers
Looks like someone molded a human shape out of an unguent containing racist e-mail forwards, Greek yogurt and hatred, although he may also beMumbles from Dick Tracy. Richardson got $87.5 million in public money (and may get $50 million more) for renovations to a then 17-year-old stadium financed with $50 million in public land and relocation fees. A true no-nonsense ethicist, he didn’t lift a finger about Greg Hardy’s domestic abuse until well after Ray Rice’s beating of his fiancée in an elevator ruined the optics for every other give-no-fuck NFL owner. Richardson was also a hardliner over locking out both the players and the referees for their out-of-control salaries despite pocketing millions in profit the preceding two seasons. He also reportedly once sneeringly responded to Peyton Manning’s concerns about concussions with, “What do you know about player safety?” Later, heading into the 2011 lockout, he harnessed every wealthy Tea Party victim stereotype by saying that it was time for the owners to “take back our league.” As a former NFL player, that makes him both a hypocrite and a vampire.