C-Span to feature professor, book

Megan Angelo

Sociology professor Rick Eckstein’s team loyalties were once a matter of genetics. “You grow up and your dad’s a Yankee fan, your mom’s a Yankee fan,” shrugs the native New Yorker. “You’re a Yankee fan, too.” Later in life, Eckstein abandoned that inheritance and disowned most sports altogether; he now feels that only women’s NCAA basketball remains unmarred by money and hype.

But regardless of whatever Eckstein lost during his disillusionment with sports, he has gained a powerful voice on the topic of professional athletics. His second book, “Public Dollars, Private Stadiums,” examines the social inequalities that the construction of new sports complexes upholds. The book, which was cowritten by Temple sociology professor Kevin Delaney, will be discussed in a panel forum next Tuesday at Villanova. The panel will be featured on C-Span on the network’s “Book TV” program, which highlights recent and controversial non-fiction books.

“Stadiums” is a particularly timely read for locals; the Eagles broke in the brand new Lincoln Financial Field last season and the Phillies will soon celebrate opening day in the just-completed Citizens Bank Park. The decision of Philadelphia’s city government to build the stadiums is a perfect example of the injustices being condoned in cities all over the country, Eckstein said. “Libraries all over Pennsylvania are closing, they’re going bankrupt,” he points out. But the state still allotted $320 million to the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to advance the construction of four new ballparks.

Furthermore, Eckstein says, an overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians opposed the funding – 90 percent, to be exact. Apparently, few citizens bought into the state government’s promises of an economic and cultural rejuvenation triggered by the new structures. “People knew that they [the stadiums] don’t produce a windfall of money,” he says. “They don’t create economic activity. It just doesn’t ring true, but they [state and city officials] went ahead and did it anyway.”

The “stadium wave,” as Eckstein calls it, began sweeping cities nationwide five years ago. It was fueled, he claimed, by a particular paranoia among city officials. “They started saying, ‘If you don’t get these stadiums, you’re going to turn into another Akron. Or a Dayton. Or a Johnstown,” Eckstein says, referencing cities that are hurting economically for lack of attractions. “It’s a little deceptive, but it works.”

That argument could hardly justify the stadiums erected in Philadelphia, he insists. As he writes with Delaney in “Stadiums,” “Philadelphia already has community self-esteem. People who live and work there are not susceptible to arguments that the city is about to become another Harrisburg or another Wilmington.” But in mid-sized cities, like Arlington, Va., where the Montreal Expos may relocate, the theory of stadium-generated revenue hits home with city councils.

Tuesday’s discussion will focus on politics and media as they figure into the stadium wave. Politically, the conversation will touch on the alliances between governments and corporations that have fostered the development of the complexes. The role of the media as a promotional tool, rather than an investigative force, will also be explored.

Joining Eckstein and Delaney will be former professional baseball player and sportscaster Jim Bouton, who recently authored “Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark.” Bouton’s book documents his experiences in the town of Pittsfield, Mass., where he led the community in a crusade to restore a neglected minor league stadium and bring in a new team. Though Bouton never requested any government funding, he still met heavy resistance from the city council, who pushed adamantly for the construction of a new facility. Bouton is also the author of “Ball Four,” a memoir about his experiences with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros. “Ball Four” is the best-selling sports book of all time and the New York Public Library named it as one of the most important books of the 20th century.

The panel discussion “New Stadiums, Politics and the Media” will be held in the Villanova Room of the Connelly Center on April 6 at 8 p.m. Admission is free and the event will be open to the general public. The event will air on C-Span’s “Book TV” within the next few months.