February 2, 2006, - 6:57 am
By Debbie Schlussel
DETROIT – Much ado is being made about this weekend’s National Football League Super Bowl being played in the nation’s poorest city.
But far more disturbing is what the media are not writing about: how racial politics and even the politics of Middle East hate are being visited upon this weekend’s contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks.
In addition to the official Super Bowl, there is an affirmative action Super Bowl that takes place off the field–who decides who gets the lucrative service contracts that come with Super Bowl parties and galas put on by thousands of visitors and spectators visiting Detroit.
While those playing on the field got there through merit, by being the fastest runners, the best pass-rushers, the most prolific tacklers, those “playing” off the field got lucrative contracts by virtue of their ethnicity and race. The NFL designed it that way.
The League required all Super Bowl sponsors to hire a portion of their contractors from its “Emerging Business Program.” But only female- and minority-owned businesses qualify as “emerging businesses.”
Throughout 2005 NFL and Detroit Super Bowl XL Host Committee officials held seminars for women- and minority-owned businesses on how to qualify and how to get contracts from Super Bowl sponsors. At these seminars, the message was clear: white-male owned business need not apply (or even attend). The same went for the first ever NFL online business database provided to NFL sponsors and advertisers (at www.sbxl.org).
The Super Bowl Vendor Workshop Series, Super Bowl Business Resource Guide, Super Bowl Matchmaking Program, and Super Bowl Hotel Merchandising Program, are all reserved for minorities. NFL Super Bowl licenses are sold to minorities at a much discounted rate, and the League “then assists the selected licensees by seeking various channels of distribution for their products,” according to the Super Bowl XL website. It isn’t a one-time thing. The NFL assisted Detroit-area minority contractors during Detroit’s 2005 Major League All Star Game, and has pledged to do so for the 2007 NCAA Men’s Basketball Regional and the 2009 NCAA Men’s Final Four.
It’s nothing new. Starting in 1994, the NFL started this preferential treatment program, making it harder for non-minorities to compete. So far, the NFL and the Host Committee have awarded $5.8 million in game-related business to 250 “minority” firms, according to the Detroit Free Press, leaving the ‘non-preferred” out in the cold in this economically depressed area of closing Ford plants and lost Kmart jobs.
This year, Black-owned Detroit cleaning services business J&J Cleaning Services, Inc. will make $100,000 from NFL-steered contracts. Ditto Sharon Mann, who got an exclusive contract to sell Super Bowl memorabilia at the NFL’s headquarters inside Detroit’s Renaissance Center. And for Mimi Markofsky, a caterer who got a contract to do an invitation-only NFL Tailgate party because she is a woman.
Then there is the issue of just who is a “disadvantaged minority”–an “emerging” business–under the NFL’s program. Some crafty male business owners told me they set up temporary new companies in the names of their wives or mothers–or temporarily designated them as 51% owners–in order to qualify for the NFL minority largesse.
Then there are the other minorities. This year, they’re people like John Jonna, owner of Merchants Fine Wines in Dearborn. Jonna is not Black, Hispanic, or even Native American. He is Chaldean–an Iraqi Christian minority, the majority of which now live in the Detroit area, because of persecution from Muslims. But he is hardly “disadvantaged” or “emerging” in the business world. He is a very successful business man without ethnic preferences. A store he owned in suburban Detroit has closed, soon to be replaced by multi-million dollar lofts he’s building.
In this Super Bowl, a new class of “minorities” has emerged–Arab Muslims and Chaldeans. If you fit into this category, you qualify for all the NFL minority contracting advantages. And the organizations doing the certifying are not without controversy.
The Chaldean Chamber of Commerce was founded by its executive director, Martin Manna. When FBI director Robert Mueller revoked a planned award to a suspected “former” member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Manna strongly objected in Detroit newspapers. He served on the board of an Arab welfare agency raided by the FBI for providing phony social security numbers to Muslim women aliens defrauding Medicaid. The agency also was a sponsor of the 2002 Palestinian Students Divestment Conference at the University of Michigan, which supported divesting from Israel, and at which accused terrorist Sami Al-Arian was the keynote speaker.
The Arab American Chamber of Commerce is hardly better. It’s best known for hosting and organizing the U.S.-Arab Economic Conference in Detroit in 2003, a sponsor of which, the Arab Thought Foundation, was funded by Bakr Bin Laden and Saudi Royals, and hosted an anti-Semitic speaker at a Washington forum.
In planning the event, Arab Chamber chairman and founder Ahmed Chebbani and then-executive director Nasser Beydoun spoke at an American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt event at which they described their conference and raison d’etre as using Arab Americans’ businesses to change U.S. policy in the Middle East. They “highlighted the significant role of Arab-American businesses in the U.S. economy as well as how these businesses share the concerns of the wider Arab community with regard to U.S. policy in the Middle East,” according to notes of the event on the Egyptian group’s website. “On the economic front, it is possible for us to make headway,” Beydoun told Egyptians. “The U.S. understands trade and business. We are a capitalist nation.”
Yes, we are. But we also have other moral principles that aren’t in play at Super Bowl XL or the NFL.
The League must remember that a lot of its fans–its customers–don’t buy into its new-found Mid-East politics and its tired old racial ones.
Tags: ado, Ahmed Chebbani, anti-Semitic speaker, Arab American Chamber of Commerce, Arab Chamber, Arab Thought Foundation, Bakr Bin Laden, chairman and founder, Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, Chamber chairman, Debbie Schlussel, Detroit, Detroit Free Press, Detroit's Renaissance Center, director, Egypt, executive director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ford, Host Committee, Hotel Merchandising Program, Israel, J&J Cleaning Services Inc., John Jonna, keynote speaker, Kmart, Major, Martin Manna, member, Michigan, Middle East, Mimi Markofsky, Nasser Beydoun, National Football League, NFL, NFL Tailgate party, NFL's headquarters, online business database, owner, Palestine, Pittsburgh Steelers, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Robert Mueller, Sami Al-Arian, Seattle Seahawks, Sharon Mann, Super Bowl, Super Bowl XL, terrorist, the 2009 NCAA Men's Final Four, the Detroit Free Press, The University of Michigan, United States, USD, Washington, www.sbxl.org, XL