Compared to the typical white male billionaire NFL owner, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is pretty liberal. He gave cash to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and has been generally supportive of NFL players who have used the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. (Though he hasn’t been supportive of Colin Kaepernick, the blacklisted quarterback who started the movement.)
“It’s a big problem in America, social injustice,” said Lurie early in the 2017 season, USA Today reported. “Anybody who wants to do proactive things, to try to reverse social injustice, I’m all in favor.”
In 2003, when Rush Limbaugh suggested that the Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because he’s black, Lurie criticized the “institutional racism” of ESPN, which had hired Limbaugh to be a football commentator. Limbaugh, who obviously was chosen by ESPN as a ratings magnet and not for any football expertise, was ultimately fired over his McNabb comments.
“There is clearly a problem and the problem doesn’t go away with the firing of Rush Limbaugh,” Lurie responded at a press conference, as quoted by The Los Angeles Times. “The problem, in my opinion, and I think in many people’s opinions, is when you are in the business of hiring people like that or portraying athletes in a primarily African American sport and want to completely disengage from reality in the seeking of ratings, it is a sad story.”
But almost nobody knows that Lurie, prior to becoming owner of the Eagles, expressed serious interest in funding Z, the lefty magazine.
A couple of years after the launch of Z, Lurie showed up the magazine’s office, as Z co-founder Michael Albert recalled in his memoir, Remembering Tomorrow: From SDS to Life After Capitalism.
“One day … a fellow about my age knocked at the door where we then lived in Boston’s South End,” explained Albert, who ran Z with this comrade, Lydia Sargent. “The home housed Z Magazine as well as Lydia and me, and our visitor asked if he could have some of our time. He came in, and we conversed for a couple of hours. Our mystery guest, Jeff Lurie, wanted to help Z become more visible. Indeed, he wanted to help us become like ‘a left Newsweek.’ He told us about his political identification with Z and about his prior trip to Vietnam to see the war’s aftermath for himself. He explained that he had the means to help us, being born of a very wealthy family.”
After Lurie left, Albert looked into his credentials. “Lo and behold, Jeff Lurie was no joke. His granddad had made fortunes via General Cinema, and the family owned Neiman Marcus, among other holdings. Jeff had juice, not to mention owning his own Hollywood film company, Chestnut Hill Productions, and being an avowed feminist.”
But there was a catch. “Jeff explained that before he could put serious money into Z, his advisors had to agree it was an okay thing to do,” Albert noted. “So I would have to convince them that sending large sums of money our way wouldn’t consign Jeff to the investor’s hall of shame.”
So he had a meeting with Lurie and his advisors in the billionaire’s opulent office overlooking Boston Harbor. The meeting went well, and Lurie assured Albert that everything was in order, except there was just one more hurdle to clear.
“He wanted to propel Z into great visibility for the politics, but for himself, he wanted to become a major player in professional sports,” explained Albert. “He wanted the fun that would come with that, and he thought maybe he could do it far more progressively than others had, thereby providing a useful model as well. He was a Boston boy and he mostly wanted to own the Celtics, but that possibility wasn’t panning out. Football would be great, too, however.” So he was trying to buy the New England Patriots.
And that was the hurdle. “Buying a sports team is a highly vetted process,” Albert continued. “You have to pass muster to enter the fraternity of sports-team owners. So Jeff told me that while he was being eyeballed as a prospective owner, he couldn’t do anything that might rock that boat. Shoveling funds to us would certainly rock the boat. It would make him appear crazy.”
After months of delays, Lurie invited Albert and Sargent to his movie studio in Los Angeles. “We paid the fare,” noted Albert. “The progressive rich can be incredibly cheap.”
But that meeting did not go well. Although Lurie still expressed confidence that the funding would go through, he didn’t know when it would happen, and advised his potential beneficiaries that they shouldn’t count on it.
“I called Lurie’s office intermittently for months, but never talked to him again,” recalled Albert. “Lurie bought the Philadelphia Eagles not long thereafter for $195 million. I called to congratulate him and ask if perhaps the time to finance alternative media had come. I didn’t get him on the phone. Harcourt General, a Lurie family holding, sold some years later for $54.5 billion. Net cash flow from Jeff Lurie to Z: $0.”
Well, it’s some 25 years later, and the Eagles have finally won the Super Bowl. So perhaps Lurie can now do something more progressive than put up photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and Jonas Salk at Eagles headquarters and call it the “Hall of Heroes.”
Maybe he can shovel funds to alternative media that’s not in the tank with Democrats or Republicans. If so, he could start by shoveling a big donation to everyone’s favorite online Washington tabloid, which mixes highbrow political investigations with the sleaziest (but truest) political gossip, and which was also totally in the tank for the Eagles in the Super Bowl.