Okay, let me say something up front. I am not a blogger, but I have a blog. I am a Detroit fan born and raised in The D, but I don’t live in Detroit now. I’m a walking contradiction who shouldn’t be believed or have any credibility, but I have something to say and I don’t care who hears it.
After the historic election of Barack Obama, I didn’t write an effusive note about how happy I was, even though it gave me hope that my children would live in an amazing country with leaders we can be proud of for a change. When the economy nosedived in the scariest way possible, I wasn’t that compelled to say anything publicly although it is tearing my hometown to the ground and putting friends and familiy out of work all over the world. But now that the Lions have gone 0-16, and have failed to win a game for the entire season, I think it’s time to speak.
Detroit, this is the lowest moment in our history. This is worse than the next three worst moments, two of which occurred this year: the race riots in 1968, the Big Three automakers getting bailed out, and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick going to jail.
Think about that - the worst moment until this year was the city erupting in hateful race-fueled riots ending in beatings, death, and uncontrolled fires. And now, after years of neglect, horrible leadership, economic decline at the hands of a slowing ancient industry, we’ve scored a hat trick. Kwame, Bailout, Lions. That’s what 2008 will be remembered for in the future - a terrible year for the country, but felt so much worse in Michigan.
Kwame - this goes beyond words - Detroit suffered under one of the worst mayors in history, running the city for his own personal purposes, holding down economic development, the education systems, and running a “machine” style council filled with cronies and supporters. He did nothing about police brutality, fathered children out of wedlock, and was the subject of FBI scrutiny for kickbacks. And his name was Coleman A. Young. And he left office in 1993. And we elected someone worse than him. WORSE. So much worse that we jailed him while he was in office, something which hasn’t happened to a sitting major American mayor as far as I can find.
Bailout - The industry which had long supported our metropolis rode high after the war and excess drove the big three to become enormous, bloated dinosaurs trying to compete in a world in which they no longer belonged. Jobs declined, communities suffered, and blame was attached to the Unions. Guess what? The Big Three were quite cozy with the Unions and ran shitty companies with products no one wanted to buy (Pontiac Aztek? Really?) with no sense of innovation, connection to customers, or foresight (hybrids considered for production only after the Japanese found success - how did you not see this coming?) doesn’t help either.
These are terrible companies in a mediocre industry with almost exclusively fixed costs. The general auto decline can only shoulder about 10% of the problems. For all of that, you grew into a massive presence tied entirely to one community and now are tipping over to be crushed under your own weight. It is the most irresponsible and shitty thing any one industry can do to a town. These are lives, families, and hopes all drowned in bad business.
To be clear, government did little to try to manage this impending doom (we all saw it coming, let’s be honest). Blame would lay at the feet of the Mayor if he were not so inept, the governor if she weren’t so interested in being governor, and at the representatives/senators if they weren’t so cozily in bed with Big Auto [Debbie Dingell, wife of US-Rep John Dingell (Who owns $1m of GM stock) is an employee of General Motors].
We should have been diversifying the industries which fed our tax base, doing something real about building a creative economy, an IT base of innovation, or the absolutely most logical eventuality, a Green Engineering center to rival all others in the world (come on - we have the most engineers and technical workers per square mile. We should be building the majority of green cars, solar panels, and windmills)
And once the real catastrophy hit, the answer was to go to the government hat in hand and beg for help, perhaps during the period when it was least responsible to do so, and when the taxpayers could least afford to shoulder the burden. Embarassing.
Our city had no real chance.
Lions - But here is the representation of all of the worst parts of the city’s history. The Lions. The Detroit Lions. The team which some refer to as one of the most storied in NFL history, one of two teams guaranteed to play a game on Thanksgiving on a national stage. One of the Original Six of the NFL, if such a thing existed.
They had one of the most explosive running backs in history and mismanaged him so badly, he chose to retire early, shy of NFL records he could have easily broken, and give back millions of dollars rather than play for the Detroit Lions organization. Think carefully about that. A player on track to be the greatest throws away everything because your boss is that shitty. How badly must he have been treated to quit before training camp and leave us in the lurch with no offense in 1998?
They are a joke in 2008 - having not won a game all season. A feat not accomplished, ever. Last year the Patriots won all their games and were lauded as geniuses, and athletes for all ages. This makes our team the inverse of that.
They have a terrible owner whose single biggest failure is the lack of performance management (if you do your job well, we’ll take care of you. If you don’t, we’ll find someone else). But its even worse than that. He’s from an automotive family where performance management, efficiency, strategy, or foresight are as foreign a language as Esperanto or Klingon.
The Lions are bad for the same reasons the auto industry doesn’t run well in Detroit. Bad executives who fail to listen to critics, experts, and customers/fans and see the landscape for what it really is.
And remember, this is in the salary cap era. The NFL has grown and been successful because for the most part, each team spends the same amount of money on players which gives an even playing field, parity of teams, and basically puts success at the price of hard work, good coaching, and smart players. Given the same resources as other teams, the Lions have failed to win a game for an entire season.
So 2008 is undenyably the worst year yet for Detroit. There is much work to do and many ways to take advantage of the regional strengths to turn the economy around, but its hard to keep hope in a time filled with it. I just hope we can forget this year and make 2009 at least a one-win year and work towards rebuilding my town.