A City Not Of Its Word

Always be a man of your word.

Probably like a lot of you, that was advice my father routinely gave me. On the surface, it was about honesty. If you tell someone you are going to do something, then do it. But, in the bigger picture, as he would point out, this is about being trustworthy. Sure, there are times that not keeping your word will benefit you, but in the long run, it’s not just morally the right thing to do, but it’s the pragmatic option. Being a man (or woman) of your word means you’ll always be trusted, and you will always benefit from that.

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I’ve been thinking about that advice a great deal as we’ve all watched the brouhaha between Mayor Cooper and John Ingram/Nashville Soccer Club. My first reaction to the news that the Mayor is continuing to stall and continuing to negotiate a deal that seemed complete was to think that he was being dishonest and duplicitous. After all, as we all know, as a candidate for Mayor, he noted that while he wished the stadium would have been placed downtown, he considered the deal that was made to be “finished business.”

Most of us took that as a good sign. He didn’t like the deal, but he was going to honor it. When soccer fans seemed worried that he was elected, I routinely would say, “Don’t worry. He said it’s finished business, and a mayor can’t start his term by backing out of deals and putting the city financially at risk.”

And then he did. Or at least, he’s trying to renegotiate what we all assumed to be a done deal.

There are a number of ways to think about what he’s up to. If you read keyboard warriors on twitter and elsewhere, the Mayor is stalling with Nashville SC because he’s “an idiot,” “a snake,” or a “liar.”

I don’t think he’s any of these things, not in his own mind. Mayor Cooper seems smart enough (if politically inexperienced) and I’m going to assume that he thinks of himself as an honest person. My assumption is that he meant it when he said that the stadium was “finished business.” Then, after he got into office, he looked over the deal that was made, saw the cost overruns for building infrastructure, and, in his own mind, saw this as a legitimate opportunity to renegotiate what until then seemed to be a done deal. That is, he thinks something along the lines of, “Well, the city agreed on the following conditions, and now conditions have changed. So, parts of the deal are up for renegotiation.”

I don’t know any of this for a fact, but I assume in this case, as I do most often, that people see themselves as being honest, “of their word.” And most of the time, such people have justifications for their actions in their own minds that allow them to continue to see themselves as being honest and trustworthy.

I was talking to a friend of mine who knows the Mayor fairly well, and I mentioned how I thought his dealings with NSC, combined with other deals that he is working to renegotiate, were really going to hurt him politically.

“He doesn’t care,” I was told, “He’s not political in a way that you would expect. He’s going to do what he thinks is right regardless of how it plays out politically.”

I don’t know if that’s true, but, if so, it’s a quality I would admire. We rarely see politicians with the backbone to act against what polls or popularity tell them. So, while I might not agree with his stances, the principle of acting for what you see is right is not a bad one at all.

So, if I can hold that Mayor Cooper has some competencies as mayor, that he is acting in what he sees as good faith, and that he is a non-traditional politician, why am I still so angry at his actions?

Because even if he sees himself as a “man of his word,” even if he is acting regardless of how voters might support him, his actions are making all of us dishonest in the long run. That is, regardless of what legitimate legal loopholes he can find in deals that were made by previous administrations (and courts have shown over and over that laws and loopholes always operate in shades of grey) , his actions make it appear as if the city itself is not to be trusted, as if the city itself is a “liar.”

I can be a “Man of my word,” but the actions of this Mayor are making Nashville a city that is “not of its word.”

And that’s going to haunt us for a long, long time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The above is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Speedway Soccer as a whole.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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