SAN FRANCISCO – It was 1970, and I was bored and home alone on one particular Sunday afternoon. I turned on our black and white TV and surfed from channel to channel looking for a cure to my boredom. My choices were limited to old people talking politics, what I referred to at age fourteen as “Church stuff,” or a football game.
I chose the game, a San Francisco 49ers game. I knew nothing of football at the time but I remember that first experience hooked me for life, so I thought.
San Francisco is in jeopardy of losing a popular resident and long-time neighbor. The 49ers, a team that has been in the city for more than 66 years, looks set to head south to Silicon Valley. Elements of this near departure remind me of the biblical parable “The Good Samaritan.”
Still, something is missing.
In 2006, the team’s owners decided they were giving up on building a replacement stadium for Candlestick Park, built in 1960 and located on the edge of the largely Black community of Bayview Hunters Point. Instead, the 49ers – which have been part of San Francisco since the team’s inception in 1946 – have opted to build a new stadium 35 miles to the south in the affluent suburb of Santa Clara, California.
The reasons given, at least on record, for the 49ers decision are (1) “Traffic” (2) “Closer to the [team’s] Santa Clara training facility and office” and (3) Candlestick Point “Does not meet the needs of the 49ers.”
Toxic waste from a nearby naval shipyard, the bickering between resident factions or overly burdensome politics from City Hall might be better reasons. However, to the team’s credit, blaming others has never been a good enough reason to give up.
The National Football League gave the move its blessing when the NFL and team owners voted to loan the 49ers $200 million from its “G4” (New stadium) fund to go along with $850 million in bank financing from Bank of America, U.S. Bank and Goldman Sachs. This paved the way for the team to leave a struggling San Francisco community in need of the economic lift that this $1.2 billion project could offer.
In a “Commitment to community letter” dated June 15, 2011, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cited the many works done by the league in support of local communities.
“It is the $150 million NFL Youth Football Fund, a partnership with the NFL Players Association that invests in the future of the game. It is Youth Education Towns, a permanent legacy of every Super Bowl, where young people at risk can learn and grow. During the season, many players spend their day off working in communities, a tradition known as ‘NFL Tuesdays.’ Players volunteer each week at local schools, shelters, and hospitals, helping out in ways large and small...”
The letter ends with this plea. “The NFL has always been about football and community. We hope that you will join the NFL, our teams, and players in reaching out and strengthening our communities...”
Seven months later, the league votes to loan the 49ers money so it can abandon its own community. The move comes as the team recently announced that all 2012 season tickets have sold out at Candlestick Park, typical of every regular season game for the past thirty years, in this blighted part of town.
“The 49ers are pretty much responsible for the lack of development in that entire area,” said a longtime Hunters Point resident who goes by the name “Rot.” “My father ran a construction company in SF for most of his life and he was often to say how the 49ers are killing every project in that area in order to either get a new park from the city or move out. This has been going on since the mid 90s.”
Such is the reaction among many here, where the unemployment rate hovers at around 70 percent.
Across the street from Candlestick Park is a housing project known as “Double Rock.” It’s the hidden sin of a great city, where no taxicab will go and whose residents have not seen a pizza delivery in close to thirty years.
Luke 10: 30- 37 tells of a man beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. A “priest” first happens upon the injured but does not offer to help. Another man likewise chooses to go out of his way to avoid the injured. Then a traveler from a town called Samaria comes upon the man. He sees the victim in need and has mercy on him. The Samaritan helps him up, takes him to a place to get medical care, and commits to pay for it all.
It appears that like the first two passersby in this biblical passage, the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers have opted to ignore the injured, to go out of their way to avoid those in need, and to leave behind a neighborhood beaten and bleeding.
Allen Jones, 55, was a Bible study teacher at San Francisco’s juvenile hall from 1983 to 1993. Currently, he is a prison reform activist who has committed to remaining homeless until Sacramento lawmakers answer any one of his numerous correspondences. For more information on his protest(s) go to: http://casegame.squarespace.com