The departure of the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles under the ownership of Enos Stanley Kroenke has dominated the news cycle throughout January. It marked the second time an NFL franchise has left the city for greener pastures, but the uproar against Kroenke and the tactics of the NFL from the eastern side of the Show-Me State have become deafening.
Despite passionate pleas by St. Louis Rams fans and efforts on the part of city and some in state government to build a new $1 billion stadium in downtown St. Louis, Kroenke stated his decision to move the team as “the most difficult process of my professional career.”
“While we are excited about the prospect of building a new stadium in Inglewood, California, this is bitter sweet,” he said in a Jan. 13 release. “St. Louis is a city known for its incredibly hard-working, passionate and proud people. Being part of the group that brought the NFL back to St. Louis in 1995 is one of the proudest moments of my professional career.”
For many, the words of the man named after two St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famers in Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter, rang more than a touch disingenuous. Just a week prior, Kroenke essentially gut-punched the city in his relocation proposal, stating that because of what he called a faltering city economy that “any NFL Club… in St. Louis will be well on the road to financial ruin, and the League will be harmed.”
He argued this despite the fact that attendance and support for St. Louis’ two other major sports franchises, the Cardinals and the Blues who have had winning traditions the last decade, are as strong as ever.
Longtime St. Louis sportswriter Bernie Miklasz wrote in a long blog post the day after the news broke that he did not have the foresight to expect that a, by all accounts, shrewd businessman (a man who only ever held one press conference as the sole owner of the St. Louis Rams) would participate in shrewd business practices with a shrewd organization like the NFL that has been mired in controversies and possible cover-ups since Commissioner Roger Goodell assumed power.
“I simply underestimated Kroenke’s greed, especially after he expressed pride in his Missouri roots and honorable reputation while telling me in 2010 that he’d never lead the charge out of St. Louis to Los Angeles,” he wrote. “I took the man at his word … at least until it became obvious to me (belatedly) that he wasn’t telling the truth.”
Other writers in and from St. Louis did not take the news well. The Riverfront Times published an editorial with the headline, “F–k You, Stan Kroenke, and the Toupee You Rode in Under,” sportswriter Will Leitch named him the “Most Hated Man in St. Louis,” and TV host and St. Louis native Andy Cohen gave Kroenke a double middle-finger on his Bravo! channel show.
Even though the entire city reeled from the announcement, perhaps two of the most prominent figures that felt the direct sting of Kroenke’s decision were St. Louis mayor Francis Slay and Gov. Jay Nixon. Both faced significant criticism in their efforts to keep the Rams. Calls for public votes or votes from the legislature about the rollover and extension of state stadium bonds to a possible new stadium made some in the Missouri legislature find the governor’s actions borderline dictatorial.
They trusted the NFL, an organization that time and again sought the correct course of action based on a monetary criterion. Yet, Goodell had been at the forefront of the movement to put a team in Los Angeles, and he personally denounced the St. Louis’ plan for a new stadium as inadequate just days after Dave Peacock’s stadium task force submitted it.
Nixon and Slay essentially stretched both of their necks into the lunette of a guillotine and trusted the league not to let the blade drop while it became preoccupied with the dollar signs in their eyes.
Slay felt so slighted by the end result of what he saw as an earnest attempt to keep the Rams that he seems to have soured on the prospect of an NFL team in St. Louis entirely. Nixon himself noted that the league moved into dangerous territory when it favored economic success over loyal fan bases.
“It is troubling that the league would allow for the relocation of a team when a home market has worked in good faith and presented a strong and viable proposal,” Nixon said in a statement. “This sets a terrible precedent not only for St. Louis, but for all communities that have loyally supported their NFL franchises.”
Outside commentators got on the same train of thought as Nixon, reaffirming that Kroenke’s move proved the caustic business side of sports, in this case, had overshadowed its more intangible benefits. Tom Ley of Deadspin, a source known for its loathing of the St. Louis Cardinals fan base, was quick to point out that Kroenke acted in his best business interests with no regard for the fans of the St. Louis Rams.
“Stan Kroenke, along with all of the other owners living in America’s upper crust, don’t think about us at all,” he wrote. “You can ask people like Kroenke all the angry questions you want, but the answers don’t exist, because he never heard you in the first place.”
Miklasz made perhaps the strongest closing statement on the subject though.
“I understand that this is a great city, a tough city with immense pride, a city that faces the inevitable problems that are familiar to most Midwest and Rust Belt towns,” he wrote. “It’s also a city with character. It stings to lose the Rams, but the pain will ease. If anything we’ll have more fondness for the Cardinals and Blues and Mizzou. We’ll feel more loyalty, and have a stronger bond, with Blues owner Tom Stillman and Cards owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and the many athletes that bring this town joy.”
Miklasz’s words only rang more true at a St. Louis Blues game Jan. 14 when Stillman and DeWitt performed the ceremonial puck drop to a singular solid chant, one message which unified an entire city for at least one night.