Did King Arthur want to move his franchise from Camelot?
GASPS and tut-tuts have filled the locker-room air since the Supreme Court upheld the move of the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. Ordinarily calm observers are acting as if the migration of this National Football League franchise a few hundred miles down the West Coast had set a new record for vagrancy in an otherwise stable country.
You would never have guessed that the parent franchise, known as the United States, was founded when another team of Americans hit Plymouth Rock on the fly, and kept right on moving.
The President of our country is a native of Illinois who roamed to California before taking his franchise to the District of Columbia. The vice-president is a Texan from Connecticut.
When will we admit it? We are, for better and for worse, a nation of nomads. Our two ruling cities, New York and Washington, are practically made up of out-of-towners. Inside every second New Yorker beats a heart originally from the heartland. And some of those migratory hearts belong to sportswriters who are gasping and tut-tutting the hardest over the Raiders's rootlessness.
The TV sportscasters, wringing their hands over this mild case of wanderlust, have been even more shameless since they are a notoriously restless breed themselves, ready to leave at an agent's golden whistle to read their 11 o'clock scoreboards elsewhere.
In any case, none of this double-standard lamenting takes account of the hard facts of professional sports as itinerant labor. The athletes who make up the Raiders, and other teams, are traded routinely from franchise to franchise, and nobody gasps a gasp or tuts a tut over that.
The National Football League was built upon now-you-see-'em-now-you don't operations. Sixty years ago the Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs, champions for two years, skipped town to win a third title as the Cleveland Bulldogs. The fugitive franchise was the norm then.
People just thought of it as the frontier spirit. Everything and everybody were supposed to be moving, and with entire industries like textiles, shoes, and furniture leaving one part of the country for another, your mobile sports franchise was the least of it.
In a lot more categories than football teams we are a head-for-the-wagons-and-make-a-fresh-start nation. Over 200 moving firms are listed in the Boston Yellow Pages to prove it.
Why then, after more than a quarter of a century, are there people in Brooklyn who make it their second career to lament the passing of their beloved Dodgers from Ebbets Field to L.A.?
Why is it only when the rolling stone in motion happens to be a sport franchise that we use words like ''defection'' and ''betrayal?''
Maybe it's because we don't want sports to be like so much of the rest of American life - a business. We want heroes who would perform their astounding feats out of sheer love for the game. We want owners who buy clubs just to watch those heroes. Owners who would no more shift their franchise than King Arthur would pack up Camelot.
Bless our romantic hearts!
It does those hearts, if not our heads, credit that we can imagine nine Supreme Court justices, coming from all corners of the US to deny Al Davis, a boy from Brooklyn, the right to move his football team from one California playing field to another.
Lancelot, your moving van is waiting.