You've no doubt heard that the Green Bay Packers won the XLV Super Bowl. And you've no doubt heard that Green Bay is the smallest city with a major sports franchise. But have you heard -- in this age of global corporations and private greed -- that the Green Bay Packers are essentially a community-owned team, the stockholders of which number in the tens of thousands and receive no dividends on their stock? Moreover, we would have it no other way!
From the beginning, the team has been a community enterprise -- and whenever the citizens of Northeast Wisconsin have had to pitch in we have done so. In the early days, to keep the players uniformed and happy, we did so by passing the hat and relying on the better off to pitch in more. On later occasions, we did so by buying "shares" to keep the team in Green Bay and thereby block NFL desires to move the franchise to some bigger urban center. And about a decade ago, when we needed to build a new stadium, we did so by taxing ourselves a little extra.
Green Bay is a city of 100,000 with a metro area of 275,000. It's a city of meat packers, cheese makers, and paper workers; a city of Anglo, German, Belgian, Polish, Mexican, Hmong, and Oneidan Americans, along with a growing African-American population; a city of mostly Catholic and Lutheran folk but with a historic Jewish community; a city of working people's taverns and summer baseball and softball leagues. It sustains, with the help of NFL salary caps and revenue-sharing arrangements, one of the greatest sports traditions in the nation. Indeed, the little city of Green Bay, whose greatest divide has often seemed a matter of which side of the north-flowing and Great Lakes feeding Fox River you lived on, enabled Italian-American Vince Lombardi -- a man who spoke his mind, pushed his team, and loved the game of football and those who played it -- to become America's iconic sports coach and who in turn helped to make Green Bay nothing less than "Titletown."
I often joke that I came to Green Bay to teach but stayed to "back the Pack." But there's some real truth to it. As I have written in "All that is Solid Melts into Air" (reprinted in "Why Do Ruling Classes Fear History?"), growing up in the New York area I was a fanatic Dodgers fan -- that is, until the owners ripped the team out of Brooklyn and shipped it off Los Angeles. As a consequence of which I not only became suspicious of southern California and capitalism, but also vowed to never root for a professional sports team again. However, arriving in Green Bay in the late 1970s I broke my vow. How could I help but do so? I had come to a city where the people own the team -- a city where no corporate mogul can make off with the team to milder and richer climes.
I lost my voice watching the game last night at Titletown Brewing -- a loss exacerbated by cheering the fireworks that the city set off along the riverfront to celebrate the victory and by yelling "Go Pack Go!" with my fellow citizens. But however sore my throat is today, I feel great about and proud of our victory.
No doubt our new Republican and Tea Party-backed governor, Scott Walker, will declare that the win attests to the wonders of Wisconsin, small town values, and free enterprise. But I say it's a victory for the working people of Green Bay who hold onto their team dearly and democratically. Or as Abe Lincoln would have put it: "The Green Bay Packers: of the people, by the people, for the people."
Harvey J. Kaye is the Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HarveyJKaye