Green Bay Packers ownership: A socialist success story

by | Feb 5, 2011 | 0 comments

The Green Bay Packers‘ unique history, hometown, and ownership have been in the spotlight the past few weeks, and last night MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow closed her show with an admiring look (video clip above) at the NFL’s only remaining old-school team town, and the Packers’ nonprofit community ownership arrangement.

Where are the Green Bay Packers from?

Believe it or not, this question is actually one of the most common Packers-related Google searches. The Green Bay Packers are, of course, from Green Bay, Wisconsin. One of their founders, Curly Lambeau, received $500 in 1919 from his employer, Green Bay’s Indian Packing Company, in exchange for naming the team after the company, so the “Packers” name represents meat packers.

My mom’s husband hails from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the other night their granddaughter drove down from Titletown for a visit. Emilie was beaming with pride anticipating the Super Bowl, and she talked effusively about how cool it is to rub elbows with football stars on a regular basis in Green Bay’s stores, restaurants, and bars.

That reminded me of Jim Rome’s July 8, 2010 interview with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who once crossed the street to help his neighbors shovel snow, then came inside to play cards and drink hot chocolate with the kids. There was also an NPR story yesterday through which I learned that Rodgers and his teammates take piano lessons together locally.

As Emilie reverently related to me, Vince Lombardi’s house on Sunset Circle is still kept by its current owners much as it was when Coach Lombardi lived there.

Of course, I am a lifelong Chicago Bears fan still smarting from disappointment, so I never hesitate to remind Packer-backers that they have Bears patriarch George Halas to thank for both Lambeau Field and Vince Lombardi.

And as a progressive in a traditionally progressive state (“Forward” is Wisconsin’s state motto) which took a sharp Republican turn last November, I will also point out that Vince Lombardi was a lifelong Democrat, a friend and supporter of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

In fact, amid all the rabid condemnation of “socialism” these days, it can be a little startling to realize that the very successful community ownership arrangement (detailed in the New Yorker story, “Those Non-Profit Packers“) is — by definition — socialism.

We’ve seen a lot of upheaval in general the past couple of years, and it looks like the NFL will soon be buffeted by its own labor and ownership conflicts — perhaps postponing the next football season indefinitely. In times like these, an appreciation of history can help people avoid losing the very qualities that are most important to them.

At the very least, with all the attention paid during each Super Bowl to fleeting flashes like TV commercials and halftime entertainment, it’s gratifying to see some deeper perspective of where these institutions came from, the people who built and guided them, and the community sustaining them still.

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