By Jane Anne Morris
The Green Bay Packers control Brett Favre’s fate, but the people control the Green Bay Packers. The thousands of Wisconsinites who own stock in the team should hold a town meeting at Lambeau Field at the upcoming July 24 annual meeting of Green Bay Packers Inc., and make some decisions the old-fashioned way.
Every July, Wisconsin newspapers run photos of thousands of Green Bay Packers fans attending the annual stockholder’s meeting. Over 100,000 stockholders collectively “own” the team, the NFL’s only community-owned team. Current league rules prohibit community ownership.
The green and gold’s special structure, a public, nonprofit corporation, was “grandfathered” into the NFL in 1961. How else could a relatively small media market keep such a legendary team? The hullabaloo that accompanies having such a charismatic team in your town brings local benefits, and all team profits go to the American Legion.
In the “old days” of corporations, all stockholders held voting stock, and chose management to fulfill their aims, which were usually more than merely pecuniary. Sure, they wanted to make some money, but they also wanted other things: a train line to carry their crops to market at fair rates, the business that would be drawn to a crossroads with a railway stop, or a factory that would pay good wages and provide safe working conditions for their sons and daughters.
Today, in corporations — both for-profit and nonprofit — and even in government (gasp!), non-democratic structures and institutions have insinuated themselves like defensive screens between the stockholders (or the people) and the management (or the government). So loyal Green Bay stockholders are spectators not only at Packers games, but in the drama of picking a quarterback, and in making most decisions about the team as a whole.
We need reminding that for all their plump salaries, Brett, his teammates, the coaches, and their staff are all employees. They work for a community-owned nonprofit corporation. That community probably should not be calling in plays during a game, but determining the overall shape of the organization is part of its responsibility as owner. Which brings us back to the matter at hand.
Brett wants to play. Packers management, evidently tiring of his agonizing uncertainty about retirement, doesn’t want to reinstate him. Fearing that he might join the Chicago Bears or the Minnesota Vikings if given the chance, management doesn’t want to release him. A trade, the third option, would allow management to control where he goes.
A big decision looms, and it’s time for management to hear from the owners. It’s time for the community to take back the Pack. After vigorous debate, they should decide what to do about Favre (reinstate, release or trade), and then direct the management to carry out their wishes.
And then, after dispensing with the momentous decision about the quarterback, and exercising all of those community-grounded democratic muscles, we could try them out on some of the issues confronting us outside the stadium.
Jane Anne Morris’s latest book is Gaveling Down the Rabble: How ‘Free Trade’ is Stealing Our Democracy (Apex Press, 2008). She lives in Madison and is a Packer backer.
“Let stockholders make call on Favre.” CT: The Cap Times (Madison, Wisconsin), July 23-29, 2008.