Squeeze play | On Politics | Chicago Reader

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Squeeze play

The Bears pit Chicago versus Arlington Heights in a bidding war to see who’s the biggest sucker.

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When I heard the latest news about my not-so-beloved Chicago Bears, I thought I’d left the real world and entered the realm of some drug-induced fantasy.

Have the bumbling boobs who run the Bears turned into Gordon Gekko—you know, a superslick operator who hustles fools into paying his obligations?

Oh, if only the Bears could be so cunning when it came to putting together a winning football team.

Let’s break it down. On Thursday, Ted Phillips—the front man for the McCaskey family that owns the Bears—issued the following statement:

“We recently submitted a bid to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse property. It's our obligation to explore every possible option to ensure we're doing what's best for our organization and its future. If selected, this step allows us to further evaluate the property and its potential."

Before we go further, let me say this: I don’t believe there’s any way the Bears themselves will actually pay out of their own pocket to buy the racetrack.

I say this not out of malice, but as a fan who’s followed the Bears since the 60s. If there’s one thing we know about the Bears, it’s that they’re cheap. Really cheap—as any current or former Bears player can tell you.

About Bears leadership Mike Ditka once said: “He tosses nickels around like manhole covers."

Specifically, Ditka was alluding to Papa Bear, George Halas, the team’s founder. But the wisecrack applies to Halas’s descendants who now own the team. It may be the only thing on which Ditka—who was MAGA before it even existed—and I agree.

Consider the case of Dick Butkus—one of the greatest Bears players ever. In 1974, Butkus sued the team because they cut him after he damaged his knee. The guy risked life and limb to play for the Bears, and those cheapskates wouldn’t even pay his medical bills.

That’s cheap. And coldhearted.

So, yes, I’m confident when I say there’s no way that the Bears will pay for that racetrack with their money.

Instead, I believe it’s a ploy. They’re either hoping that Arlington Heights sweetens the deal with a handout—most likely a TIF handout. Yes, they have tax increment financing in Arlington Heights. Which means property taxes would be diverted from Arlington Heights schools.

Or they’re hoping Mayor Lightfoot panics and throws money at the team rather than go down in history as the mayor who let the Bears leave Chicago.

It’s a straight-up power play—“the ol’ squeeze play,” as Ralph Kramden might call it. Looking to ignite a bidding war between Chicago and Arlington Heights.

Here’s hoping that Mayor Lightfoot and Arlington Heights mayor Tom Hayes are too smart to fall for it.

At the moment, Mayor Lightfoot is showing common sense—reminding the Bears they have a lease through 2033. So shut up and play football.

Mayor Hayes, in contrast, is probably just a little too giddy. “We welcome the Chicago Bears' interest in the Arlington Park site,” Hayes said in a statement. “It is a one-of-a-kind location, and we are glad that the Bears ownership sees its tremendous potential.”

Look, Arlington Heights, I can’t help you with this one. I’ve got enough problems trying to keep Chicago’s mayors from handing out billions in property tax dollars to gentrifying developers.

At the moment, the Bears have a lease to play at Soldier Field until 2033.

But apparently, they don’t like Soldier Field. It doesn’t have enough seats. Or a retractable roof. Or who knows what else—the Bears are always crying about something.

It’s kind of tacky for the Bears to trash Soldier Field. It was only about 20 years ago that Mayor Daley moved heaven and earth to round up the money to renovate the stadium in order to keep the Bears happy.

Back then, Daley and the Bears said it would only cost the public about $360 million to fix the stadium. To be paid with hotel-motel taxes. But don’t worry—the people who pay hotel-motel taxes are probably out-of-towners. Think of it, Chicago, as free money.

Ignoring that if the city spends hotel-motel taxes on the Bears, they can’t spend it on things like schools or police or pensions, etc.

Meaning we pay more in fines, fees, and property taxes to compensate for the hotel-motel taxes the city is spending on the Bears.

Last I looked, the public cost of rebuilding Soldier Field was closing in on $1.2 billion, according to the Tribune.

Also, while I’m at it: to rebuild Soldier Field, the city had to demolish the buildings that housed the Chicago Park District’s central headquarters.

That meant moving the headquarters to a building in Streeterville—that cost another $22 million.

Word of warning, Arlington Heights. Don’t believe the press releases when it comes to how much it costs to satisfy the Bears.

And what have the Bears done to show their appreciation to Chicago’s taxpayers for giving them all that money?

They’ve sucked. That’s what they’ve done.

The Bears haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1986. They haven’t been in a Super Bowl since 2007. They’re so bad at judging quarterback talent they traded up to draft Mitch Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes.

Taking Trubisky over Mahomes is like taking me over Michael Jordan to play on your pickup basketball team. OK, maybe not that bad. But you get the idea.

Let me close by quoting Rick Morrissey, sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

“If the Bears want to move to Arlington Heights, they should go,” Morrissey recently wrote. “It would be one more thing not to like about an increasingly unlikable franchise.”

Well said, Rick! 

Hey, Bears, is Soldier Field not good enough for you? Go to Arlington Heights. Or Anchorage, Alaska. Or Antarctica. It’s all the same to me.

Find some other suckers to subsidize your mediocrity. Chicago’s got more pressing needs to take care of.  v

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