Opinion: Next time billionaire team owner comes looking for a handout, remember their cruelty toward employees

Remember this the next time a billionaire sports owner comes looking for a handout.

Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is the latest to lay off employees or cut their salaries as a result of shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In announcing the cuts Wednesday, Jacobs’ company Delaware North somberly said they came after “difficult and painful deliberations.”

You know what’s actually difficult and painful? A low-wage worker who was barely getting by now having to worry about making ends meet without a paycheck. A mid-level manager who doesn’t have much in savings wondering how long they’re going to be able to cover that rent check or mortgage payment. A senior citizen who worked part-time to supplement what they receive from Social Security having to choose between groceries and their medications.

Jacobs and his family are worth $3.3 billion, according to Forbes. While continuing to pay the salaries of his employees would no doubt put a dent in that — I weep at the thought of him having to scrap that trip to Antibes this year, or being forced to make due with only six luxury cars — Jacobs has the resources.

And don’t tell me he doesn’t have the cash on hand because the TD Garden and his concessions business are shut down. Ditto for Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who Bloomberg News reported has laid off a whopping 40,000 employees at his casinos, restaurants and hotels.

Among one of the many inequities in this country is that it’s easier for those who already have money to get money. If Jacobs and Fertitta don’t have the cash on hand to meet payroll, they should take out a loan.

Bryan and Michael Morin are not billionaires. Not anywhere close. But when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ordered restaurants to shut their dining rooms, Bryan Morin took out a $50,000 line of credit and promised employees at the brothers’ Federico’s Pizza that the paychecks would keep coming, even if the customers did not.

“My father told us a long time ago: You’ve got to take care of your employees first, because without those employees, you don’t have a business at all,” Bryan Morin told NJ.com.

Now, if Jacobs and Fertitta are concerned about what a loan might do to their credit score, they could sell stakes in their teams. With the Rockets worth $2.475 billion and the Bruins valued at $1 billion, they could easily raise enough cash to prevent their employees from having to make decisions that really will be difficult and painful.

While there is a discussion to be had — and a long overdue one, at that — about the obscene income disparity that exists in our country, this isn’t simply about fairness. These owners, and all their other cronies in the billionaire boys club, owe it to the public to not add their employees to the growing list of Americans now dependent on public resources and services just to keep their heads above water.

Why? Because whether it’s through public financing or use of public land to build their stadiums, tax breaks or just police officers to direct traffic on game days, people in their cities and states have helped them amass the wealth they have.

Imagine how different Jacobs’ balance sheet would look if he hadn’t been able to build TD Garden atop public land. Technically it’s built on air rights atop public land, but you get the idea. The Toyota Center predates Fertitta’s purchase of the Rockets, but he still reaps the benefits of an arena built with public money.

Many owners also are getting what are effectively interest-free loans from fans right now, refusing to give ticket refunds despite not knowing when — or, in some cases, if — the games will ever be played.

Not all teams and owners are as craven as Jacobs and Fertitta. Or maybe some are just smarter, having watched Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris walk back his plan to cut employees’ salaries by 20% after public outcry — and some significant shade by Joel Embiid.

These are difficult times, and they’re only going to get worse in the coming weeks. We all need to be looking out for one another and going out of our way to help those who need it.

Workers aren’t looking for a handout like their billionaire bosses have gotten. Just a helping hand.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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