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PAUL KENNEDY ... Lessons of the NFL
November 26th, 1999 12AM

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Who could have believed a month ago that MLS would end its season on such a high note? MLS, suffering from disinterest in the national press, appeared to be a league in trouble. But that's all changed. Don Garber has emerged as MLS's apparent savior. The knock on Garber, a former executive with the National Football League, was that he was not a soccer person. His response: Most commissioners aren't from the sport. Most commissioners these days - though not Garber - are lawyers. As a kid, our family lawyer was our neighbor, Bowie Kuhn. He was an obscure New York lawyer who would go on to be baseball commissioner. The NBA's Lee Stern and NFL's Paul Tagliabue are both lawyers. All came along at a time when negotiating skills - legal skills - had become paramount. The most critical factor, though, in the rise of these leagues was the commitment - and passion - of their ownership. Garber must know the history of the NFL well. The patrons of the NFL were all football guys first, owners second. In some cases, coaches and owners at the same time. NFL would have not survived into the 1960s, when it exploded, without great football people like George Halas and Paul Brown and families like the Rooneys and the Maras. From my viewpoint, I have no concern with Garber's lack of soccer background. I do worry about his owners' lack of involvement in the game. Only two MLS "owners" played the game: Clark Hunt and Kevin Payne. Too many poor management decisions have been made that owners could have prevented if they were closer to the game. If Garber accomplishes anything, getting his owners up to speed on all the intricacies of soccer in America will be as important as his becoming more knowledgeable.


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