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Why sports owners have responsibility to support employees during coronavirus pandemic

Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs has shafted most of his team’s employees, becoming the face of corporate greed.

2016 Hockey Hall Of Fame Induction - Legends Classic
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs was the last NHL owner to announce any sort of compensation package for his team’s game-day employees during the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As members of the LGBTQ community, we know what it feels like to be marginalized. Since the start of history, people in our community have been placed on the outskirts of society, deemed unworthy of attention or empathy.

With that reality in mind, it is important to sympathize with others whom society forgets, especially in dire times like these. As the coronavirus ravages through the U.S., the country will remain on pause until at least April 30, with many hotspot areas likely keeping social distancing measures in place well beyond that date. That means professional sports leagues probably won’t start up for months, and may not play in front of fans once they do.

One of the main takeaways from our nationwide sports shutdown is just how many people depend on the economy of sports to survive. There are the restaurants and bars that depend on game-day traffic; the retail shops around the stadium; and most of all, the game-day workers. It requires a lot of manpower to put on a professional sporting event, and all of those folks are not receiving checks while the leagues are on indefinite hiatus.

Fortunately, most sports owners have stepped up, with every NBA club drafting some sort of plan to compensate its hourly employees. Every NHL team has a plan, too, except there are caveats to the proposals from the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. Both organizations say they will only pay their hourly employees if the games are officially canceled, meaning workers could be waiting months to receive their checks. Even more odiously, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who is the 478th richest person in the world and boasts an estimated net worth of $3.4 billion, is placing most of the employees of his company, Delaware North, on temporary leave. Delaware North’s annual revenue is $3.3 billion, for what it’s worth.

It would not have taken much for Jacobs to become a face of benevolence during this crisis. Instead, he’s opted to become a face of corporate greed.

On this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki Podcast,” I spoke with out Detroit sportswriter Tony Paul about Jacobs’ avarice, and why it’s imperative for sports owners to step up during catastrophes. “There is a responsibility, and it’s not just community goodwill,” Paul said. “It’s the fact that most of these sports teams built their billions on the backs of city taxpayers. In Detroit, the city taxpayers fronted the majority of Little Caesar’s Arena, which is home of the Pistons and the Red Wings, and the majority of Comerica Park. These owners have built their wealth on that.”

Jacobs purchased the Bruins and TD Garden for $10 million in 1975. Today, the Bruins are worth an estimated $1 billion.

With 3.3 million new unemployed claims filed last week, and many more expected to be on the way, the economic damage from the coronavirus promises to be crippling. The whole episode is a reminder of how close to the edge most people are, with behavior from billionaires like Jacobs highlighting the stark divide.

“We always heard the statistics about how 40 or 50 percent of the population wasn’t equipped to handle an unexpected expense,” Paul said. “Lawmakers have heard that. It’s been a talking point in campaigns for years and years and years. Well, now you’re seeing it. You’re realizing the fact that a couple of weeks out of work, and a lot of people are wondering how they’re going to do this. You see it with the unemployment numbers. I think it was 3.3 millions new claims, but I’m here to tell you that number is so slow, because that doesn’t count the people who can’t get anybody on the phone in the unemployment office.”

Click here to check out this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki Podcast”. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.