Monday, January 19, 2009

The Steel Diaspora

In Saturday's WSJ, Jerry Bowyer wrote that Sports Mania Is a Poor Substitute for Economic Success:

In some ways, the sports mania in these towns is a substitute for genuine economic achievement. Sure the middle class is disappearing. But, hey, how 'bout them Steelers? Football triumphalism is a kind of civic cocaine, creating a sense of accomplishment where the reality is otherwise. (Maybe that's what's behind Western Europe's soccer fanaticism.)

When the Steelers were in the Super Bowl in 2006 I was the host of a radio show in Pittsburgh. I argued that the franchise was an exercise in leadership excellence in a city whose politicians were anything but. Numerous callers hammered me. They said there are a lot of "Steelers" bars across the country, and that proved the city still had some national respect. Indeed, there are hundreds of watering holes dispersed across America loaded with fanatical devotes of the Pittsburgh Steelers. "Where are the Seahawks bars?" the callers asked.

In Seattle, of course. That city has gained population while Pittsburgh lost it. Steelers bars are the visible cultural artifact of a kind of economic diaspora. People in those bars are the refugees who looked at high taxes, union dominance and lousy schools and voted with their feet. They can still root for their favorite team -- from Raleigh, North Carolina. You go South or West to get your bread. The circuses can be watched on cable.

Congratulations to the Steelers. Pittsburgh residents can savor the success of the team for the next couple of weeks and will likely be able to celebrate another Super Bowl championship. Then it will be back to reality.

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