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Seattle arena mess: Itemizing our pain, setting the record straight

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Paul Rogers attempts to itemize what has gone wrong the last couple of weeks, how we might have handled things better, and how opponents could've handled things better.

Will it ever happen?
Will it ever happen?
Sonics Arena

There's no sugarcoating it. The last two weeks have really sucked. They have been as painful and frustrating as any we have experienced as NBA and NHL fans since the day our team was sold to carpetbaggers.

Brian Robinson doesn't sugarcoat it in Wednesday's appearance on Softy's show, which you can check out here.

They say the first step is admitting it. If you want to find your way home, admit you are lost. If you want to recover from addiction, admit you're an addict. And so on and so forth.

I'm not sure which category we fit into. Addicted? Lost? Some twisted combination of both? Maybe we're just screwed. It's difficult to say. But what is easy to say is we're hurting right now as a fan base. We've taken a major gut punch, followed by some hurtful attacks on our character. You know, just in case the gut punch wasn't enough.

So as the first step to whatever we're walking toward, I'll attempt here to itemize what has gone wrong, how we might have handled things better, and how opponents could've handled things better.

Oh, and I'll attempt to set the record straight on some things.

WE LOST THE VOTE

On May 2, the fateful meeting was called into order. We knew going in that we had four yes votes and two no votes. There were three on the fence - Kshama Sawant, Debora Juarez, and Lorena Gonzalez. We needed just one of them to vote yes out of recognition that the Port of Seattle had presented no evidence of job losses or harm to the industry.

Let me say that last part again. In the last four years, the Port presented absolutely no evidence for its opposition. Yet one by one, in excruciating fashion, the three fence sitters made long, drawn out speeches to say they were voting no. Because... the Port.

When Gonzalez took the microphone, we knew she was the deciding vote. From everything we had heard behind the scenes, she was going to vote yes. The successful amendments she had made to the legislation earlier in the day made her yes vote seem even more likely. In fact, Chris Daniels reported that she was telling everyone right before the meeting that she was going to vote yes.

But as her speech wore on and when she said she didn't think the traffic issue had been adequately handled, who among us didn't get a sinking feeling in our stomach? And who among us was not completely heartbroken when she said she was voting no?

This was a body blow to all of us. It was a kick to the teeth and a knife to the heart. Please excuse us if we were just a tad bit angry with the people who voted no. Please forgive us if we feel the need to criticize certain council members who made flawed votes based on flawed logic.

To those who tell us to get over it, please recognize that this vote sent four years of hard work and emotional investment down the tubes. That's not something you get over in two weeks.

A SMALL MINORITY MADE US LOOK BAD

Unfortunately, a small percentage of local sports fans took that anger too far. Way too far. Mindbogglingly far. Catastrophically far. They sent emails and tweets to the members who voted no. They suggested that the ladies go back to the kitchen. They called them names that start with "C" and "B." They even wished them physical harm and death.

This was disgusting. Even children know this isn't how we should treat anyone, to say nothing of how a man should treat a woman. Anger is not an excuse for this. The members who voted no deserve to be criticized and questioned, but they didn't deserve any of this crap. I'm sure it was hurtful and unsettling to read.

Jesus said "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." He meant that the things we do or say or email or tweet reveal things that are inside of us. These people revealed something ugly about themselves that needs vanquishing. Suggestions I would offer include therapy, church, community service, and/or whatever it takes.

While they revealed ugliness in themselves, however, they revealed nothing about the rest of us who expressed our anger in more appropriate ways. Yet many have painted us with that same brush. So, in addition to being wrong and hurtful towards other human beings, these guys made us all look bad.

WE ADMONISHED PEOPLE

This article isn't the first time we've asked our fellow sports fans to be respectful or have called them out for not being so.

Kevin Nesgoda encouraged restraint the night of the vote.

In no way do we condone sending nasty messages to these five members, and if you see any, please call that person out. I'm not mad at them, I'm not. I'm extremely disappointed in them. If anyone should know the power basketball fans have in Seattle elections, just ask Kshama Sawant. She can pretty much thank Sonicsgate for her council position.

Brian Robinson apologized for the lack of restraint by some a couple days later.

While struggling with the pain, anger and disappointment of this decision a very small percentage of fans made horrendous and inappropriate comments, earning a rebuke from Council member Rob Johnson who deserves better as a strong ally of our cause. As someone who is considered a leader of this movement I take that rebuke seriously and am doing what I can to review areas where I could have been a better influence on the conversation. There have been some tones and conversations in our forums which I did not approve of, but for the most part these have been no worse than conversations which occur in other forums about similarly contentious issues.

If that's not enough, Chris Hansen rightfully released the following statement.

As I'm sure you are all aware, there have been a number of highly inappropriate and offensive comments in emails to city council members and on social media about the street vacation vote last Monday. While we are all naturally frustrated with the outcome, I know that the vast majority of our passionate and dedicated supporters agree with me that such comments have absolutely no place in our community.

While we may not agree with the Council's vote, misogynistic insults, vile comments and threats are unacceptable and need to stop. We should all show respect for our elected officials and the legislative process, even if we disagree with their decision.

I could also point to numerous tweets and Facebook posts from other leaders of our movement, as well as from the rank-and-file, that also took these people to task. Conclusion? Our people are as offended by hatred and misogyny as anyone else.

WE LOST THE NARRATIVE

As a result of this behavior, and of shrewd political strategy on the part of the ones who voted no, we lost the narrative. Within hours, the story was no longer about a street vacation vote that went down in flames. It was no longer about whether or not an arena should be built. It was no longer about how local Sonics and NHL fans had their hearts ripped out once again.

When the council members began releasing copies of the hateful emails and tweets, the story shifted to 'sports fans hate women in general and powerful women in particular.' So not only did these misogynistic morons spew poison for all the world to see, they gave political cover to the recipients of their venom.

WE CAN'T EVEN ASK LEGITIMATE QUESTIONS

So much cover, in fact, that our fan base gets criticized and even rudely shut down for asking perfectly respectful and legitimate questions of those who voted no. That might not be so bad if it wasn't coming from the council members themselves.

In a council meeting that took place a week after the vote, a certain Seattle sports fan showed up to express his frustration with the council's decision and to ask for an explanation from Councilwoman Gonzalez in particular. He didn't raise his voice. He didn't speak with hatred. He didn't hurl insults. He didn't ask anyone to get back to the kitchen. He calmly and respectfully laid out his case and asked for an explanation.

His respectful tone was neither returned nor rewarded. Two of the councilwomen told him "this has gotta stop." One of them even said "bullshit" while he was still talking, while the other called his remarks "inappropriate."

ARE THEY SURE 'THIS HAS GOTTA STOP?'

No one wants to move past the vitriol and get back to discussing the substantive issues more than us, but more than two weeks after the vote, it's not happening. In some cases it's due to fan reaction, but it's also being repeatedly thrown in our faces every time the council members take their stories to a new media outlet. The narrative has gone viral and national. If they really believe "this has gotta stop," they have a funny way of showing it.

I was going to try and link every local and national story that has been done on this, many of which refer to sports fans in general. Unfortunately, there are too many to quantify, let alone quote and respond to. It should suffice to say that those who voted no got great coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Curiously, they are quick to mention the vitriol of fans in these stories, but slow to point out that the vitriol was from a small minority of those fans.

The most damaging example happened this week on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

The show naturally pointed out the most glaring examples of misogyny that the women experienced, while treating them like superstars in a sports themed skit. Just as important, Bee bought into the fiction (as most of the news stories have) that the Port of Seattle would be harmed by the arena. What is the probability that this comedian researched the issue beyond the claims of these "Seawards?" Not high.

This one hurts our cause the most because people don't usually remember what the New York Times or the Washington Post said. They remember what Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee said. Why? Because people like to laugh and these people are brilliantly funny. In other words, millions of people just got their first impression of Seattle sports fans from one skit. Bringing the funny is more memorable than bringing the facts.

NO LEADERSHIP FROM CHRIS HANSEN

Almost as troubling as the vacation rejection and the ensuing firestorm is the continued absence of Mr. Hansen in a public leadership role. Aside from the statement above, the only thing we've heard from him was the following statement the night of the vote.

Today's City Council vote was disappointing but we don't believe it is the end of the road in our quest to bring the NBA and NHL back to Seattle. We know all the fans who have stood solidly by us these past years share our disappointment but it is important that we all stay focused on our shared goal.

We now need to take a little time to step back and evaluate our options, better understand the council's concerns and find a path forward. We will keep you posted.

That's not a bad statement, but we truly need more. With all due respect to Hansen, and it's an immense amount, he needs to come out of the shadows if he wants this project to succeed.

He went great guns in 2012 when he got the initial phase of the proposal approved by the city and county councils. He gave numerous interviews on TV, radio, and in print. He personally testified at public hearings. He was personally and publicly engaged in the process. The arena wouldn't have gotten even this far without that.

He went all-in in 2013 when he attempted to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle. He paid an unprecedented purchase price, which included a significant nonrefundable deposit. When David Stern began working his magic to keep the team from his grasp, Hansen fought back hard, aggressively increasing his offer and lobbying the NBA Board of Governors.

But after the Kings effort failed, he stepped back and evaluated his options. He took his foot off the gas in trying to get the environmental reviews done. The FEIS took at least a year longer to complete than it should have as a result. If not for that delay, street vacation would have been voted on by a different city council and may have stood a better chance.

We don't need Hansen to step back again and re-evaluate his options. We need him to decide on a course and pursue it as aggressively as he did the Kings and the original MOU. This fan base would walk through walls for him if he would publicly show us which ones need to come down.

SO WHAT NOW?

So what do we do now? I honestly don't know. Until Hansen gives us some direction on the Sodo project there's not much to do. There's not much to do regarding the Bellevue or Tukwila projects either for the same reason. In fairness to them, their efforts are financial and not political, so there might not be anything we would need to do.

I would recommend patience, but that would be hypocritical, since I'm fresh out of it myself.

What I will recommend is to not give up. This latest setback hurt more than most, but we are a resilient fan base. We have taken body blow after body blow over the years and we keep coming back like a bad penny.  Let's not quit now.