Former Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins, and Florida Panthers owner Wayne Huizenga died on Friday, and any time a soul passes from this earth there’s a sadness, and we pass long our sympathies to all of Huizenga’s relatives and loved ones.
And now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how Wayne Huizenga helped to make the sports world a worse place while he was alive:
- Huizenga bought the Dolphins and Joe Robbie Stadium (I’m not even going to start to look up whatever its corporate name is now) to go along with his fledgling baseball and hockey teams in 1994. He then used his ownership of the stadium to perform an accounting trick where he assigned all the revenue from luxury boxes and naming rights and parking to his stadium company, while charging his own teams rent — thus enabling him to evade league revenue sharing and to cry poor when it was time to spend money on players.
- Huizenga’s stadium may have been built with private money, but that didn’t stop him from extracting $2 million a year in sales tax kickbacks from the state of Florida, cash he kept receiving even after he sold the Marlins, threatening to sue if anyone tried to repeal the subsidy.
- When it came time to build an arena for the Panthers a few years later, he demanded at got $185 million from Broward County to do the deed.
- While Huizenga didn’t invent the player fire sale, he may have perfected it, unloading his team’s two best pitchers and almost its entire starting lineup within a year of the Marlins winning the World Series. This set a pattern for future Marlins teams, through Jeffrey Loria’s 2012 self-immolation to Derek Jeter’s Project Wolverine, all while cementing the Marlins’ place as a team that maximized profits by not trying to win games and instead focusing on collecting revenue-sharing checks.
- When Henry was demanding taxpayer money for a new Marlins stadium, Huizenga, by that time the team’s landlord, played along by threatening to evict them so he could have more room for cricket matches.
Does all this make Huizenga a bad man? First and foremost, he was a corporate businessman, trying to extract maximum value from the assets he owned, whether his sports teams or waste-hauling company or Blockbuster Video, even if at the expense of the public or his fellow team owners or his team’s on-field success. Whether this makes him a capitalist running dog or someone merely following his own rational self-interest depends on your political perspective, but it’s undeniable that his cash grabs were more innovative than that of most team owners, and had a more detrimental effect on the sports landscape. So while he may have exhibited “kindness and generosity,” as his former team tweeted last Friday, he also did all those other things too; and that, in all his complexity, is how he should be remembered by history.