I say “soccer.” My European friends say “fútbol.”
Whether it’s soccer or fútbol, no one will be saying “Chicago Bears.” It will be the “Arlington Heights Bears.”
Good riddance, I say.
The Bears are history, at least as far as the “Chicago” is concerned. In September 2021, the team inked an agreement to purchase Arlington International Racecourse in northwest suburban Arlington Heights. Once the deal is done, the team will plunk down $197.2 million for the 326-acre property.
On Nov. 7, Arlington Heights trustees approved a zoning change that would permit a sports betting facility in the area. “A sports betting facility is part of the Bears’ $5 billion proposal to create a new NFL stadium and a mixed-use commercial and residential district on the 326-acre Arlington Park site,” the Tribune reported. “Trustees also approved a ‘road map’ agreement intended to guide further negotiations around the site.”
It will be an exceedingly long road. Experts predict it will take many years for the McCaskey family, which own the Bears, to strong-arm Arlington Heights politicians and taxpayers for tax subsidies and other gimmes.
The McCaskeys may be licking their bottom-line chops, but they are also known for being, uh, frugal. So you can bet that, despite their protestations, they will try to hold up the city of Arlington Heights for as much pork as they can get.
You can’t blame them. The city’s NFL franchise owners have long been unhappy about their arrangement to lease Soldier Field from the Chicago Park District. The stadium has a football capacity of 61,500, making it the smallest stadium in the NFL. Soldier Field is also the league’s oldest. The Bears have complained about the condition of the playing field and the stadium’s configuration.
So the team has embarked on lofty plans for a new, state-of-the-art stadium and sprawling entertainment complex that will expand capacity and build in lucrative add-ons such as restaurants, retail space and sports betting.
So, Bears, go. You are losing big, and far from lovably. This football season is already history, and you are ages away from 1986, the first and only time you won a Super Bowl.
That was 36 years ago.
Long gone are the triumphs of Walter “Sweetness” Payton, William “Refrigerator” Perry and “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” the Bears’ rap tune of gridiron victory.
The Bears have shuffled off into losing, forever. The Monsters of the Midway aren’t scaring anyone. Now, they want to go to Arlington Heights to lose.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed to find a way to keep the team in the city. The McCaskeys have ignored her pleas and offers to keep our hometown team. Mayor, let them go.
Instead, go soccer. Get in on the international glow of the most popular sport in the world, now on glorious display at the massive World Cup tournament in Qatar.
The World Cup, an international soccer tournament that takes place every four years, presents men’s soccer teams from nations around the world. And soccer’s adoring devotees come from every corner of the globe.
The World Cup host, the International Federation of Association Football, or FIFA, claims it has sold at least 3 million tickets to the World Cup, which runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18. FIFA predicts another 5 billion people will view it on TV.
Soccer is the place to be.
Here, it’s the Chicago Fire. Our soccer team is a forward-looking and welcome alternative to the soon-to-be-out-of-towner Bears. It is apply named for the event that put the city on the path to greatness. That disaster laid the groundwork to rebuild Chicago to world-class status.
If the Bears skedaddle, the Fire could become the stadium’s marquee tenant.
In Chicago, soccer is hot. Last week, news reports depicted avid fans crowding neighborhood bars to cheer on their favorite World Cup teams.
If you attend a Chicago Fire game, you will encounter a fervent, youthful fan base that reflects the city’s hallmark diversity. Soccer has the most diverse followers among all major sports played in the United States, with 40% being people of color, according to a recent report by Morning Consult, a global marketing research firm.
“More than 1 in 4 U.S. adults who identified as soccer fans (27%) were Hispanic.” That’s a similar profile to the NBA — 39% of fans are people of color, according to a survey conducted in early April.
“Enthusiasm for soccer was higher among younger adults than the general population, with 40% of those ages 18-34 identifying as fans,” the report said. Researchers also found that “more than half of Hispanic Americans (55%) identified as soccer fans, a considerably higher share than among Black (33%) and white (31%) adults, as well as those of other races (43%).”
Generations of Chicagoans have no idea what it means to have a championship “football” team.
Mike Ditka who?
“Soccer has been dubbed the ‘sport of the future’ in the United States for decades,” Morning Consult noted.
Buh-bye, Bears. Soccer is Chicago’s future.
Laura Washington is a political commentator and longtime Chicago journalist. Her columns appear in the Tribune each Monday. Write to her at [email protected].
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