Commentary

L.A.'s NFL indecision needs to end

It's time for the pondering to cease about whether the city wants a team here or not

Updated: July 25, 2011, 9:03 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

She was talking about the NFL lockout. Why something that seems so simple to resolve has taken so long.

They may have called in an army of lawyers to settle the details in the new collective bargaining agreement -- which was agreed upon Monday -- but the two sides were really never that far apart, and the season was never in jeopardy.

So why then did it take so many months to arrive at the end of this process?

Oakland Raiders chief executive Amy Trask laughed, shook her head and said what we've suspected all along.

"I think it's just human nature," she explained to a group of NFL fans and corporate sponsors who'd gathered for the annual Los Angeles-stop on the league's "NFL 101 All-Access" tour last week at the L.A. Coliseum.

"But now we've got to get it done. … There are games to play."

In a few weeks, a 16th NFL season will begin without a team playing in Los Angeles.

Farmers Field
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesL.A. city leaders were excited about the prospect of Farmers Field at a news conference in February.

Around the same time, or at least by Aug. 20, the Los Angeles City Council will decide whether to give a de facto green light to the latest and grandest proposal to build a new stadium capable of attracting an NFL team back to Los Angeles, the AEG-backed Farmers Field in downtown next door to Staples Center.

The city released a draft of the agreement Monday. Officially, it's called a "memorandum of understanding."

But all you really need to understand is that if the city doesn't stay behind the project, it's hard to envision another scenario, or another project, that'll get this far and look this good again.

This is, for lack of a better word, IT. It's our "now we've got to get it done" moment.

The NFL has presumably given AEG a tacit nod of approval, or we wouldn't have even gone this far.

The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, stood up at a news conference announcing the Farmers Field naming rights in February and all but jumped up and down while endorsing it.

No fewer than five NFL teams have already had initial explorations about relocating to L.A., if Farmers Field is built.

Even Gerry Miller, the city's chief legislative analyst in charge of vetting the project, essentially said in a June 17 letter to councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is regarded as the main holdout on the plan, that the Convention Center must be updated one way or another to remain competitive, and the AEG plan to leverage private funds to upgrade it is the least risky current option.

Are Rosendahl and other council members right to to be cautious before green-lighting such an enormous project? Of course. I'd be angry if they weren't.

But there also has been 16 years to think about this. Sixteen years during which dozens of other cities are benefiting from the tax revenue, job creation and civic pride an NFL team brings.

Sixteen years to decide, as a community, whether we're into this or not.

If we're not into the AEG plan, then we need to quickly move on to Ed Roski's less-flashy, but still-solid shovel-ready plan in the City of Industry to make sure the other viable option to bring a team here doesn't get tired of waiting around.

If we're just not into the NFL, that's fine. Los Angeles will always be a world-class city. Unlike many existing NFL cities, L.A. doesn't need the NFL to be relevant. We've certainly gotten used to life without a team here.

But getting used to life without a team isn't the same as deciding we don't want the NFL.

"I just really think L.A. should have a team," San Diego Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips said, while signing autographs at the NFL 101 event. "This is one of the best cities in the world.

"L.A. has two of everything else, so to not have any NFL team is weird. Hopefully they can make it happen soon. I would love to play here. I don't like a lot of my Charger fans to hear me say that, but I'd love to be here. A lot of my friends are here, a lot of the things I do socially are here. L.A.'s got everything except for a football team."

The problem with bringing a team here is the issue seems too complicated for most people to wrap their minds around, and the way forward seems too muddled by the failures of the past.

It's human nature to freeze up when a situation seems too big to deal with. To put things off for later. To deal with more pressing issues. The ones in front of us and even behind us.

But nothing good ever gets done without looking forward. Without creating and designing and innovating and then, one day, taking a risk and jumping.

Right now Los Angeles isn't saying "no" to the NFL, it's saying, "I just don't know."

The agnosticism is understandable. So is apathy. We've all seen too many false starts and dead ends the past 16 years. We've also lived through too many companies, politicians and owners, such as Frank and Jamie McCourt, who have let us down to take much at face value anymore.

Casey Wasserman, the boy wonder developer who has stayed relatively quiet during the planning stages of the Farmers Field project but who will likely be the face of whatever franchise comes here, described our civic mood this way recently:

"L.A. fans are cynical until they're not," Wasserman said during a keynote address at the Variety Sports Business Summit two weeks ago. "If you show something to them, then they'll believe it."

Ed Roski and his group at Majestic Realty have already shown us a lot. They are shovel-ready to begin on a new stadium in the City of Industry whenever a team decides it wants to come here. The problem is they've been shovel-ready for a while now and no team has come or even heavily flirted with them.

The new agreement between the players and owners may be enough for that process to begin, but I suspect the real delay is that everyone who matters with those franchises and in the league office is waiting to see what happens with the downtown project first.

In a few weeks, our moment will come. We can say "yes" or "no," but the time for indecision is over.

It's time to figure it out.

It's time to get it done.

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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