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Commentary: Buffalo Not Defined by Sports Teams

By Chet Mais

Buffalo, NY – I like sports. Sports provide terrific entertainment, and let's face it, some of the best programming on commercial television is provided by professional sports. Athletic achievement at a high level is difficult to attain and worthy of respect. Personally, ice hockey seems so difficult to play that I don't see how anyone can do it! And Ted Williams was right: it is very difficult to hit a pitched ball. There's no question that losing the Sabres would be a bad thing for several reasons

Having said all that, I must also say that I get pretty impatient with the silly notion that a city's worth or self-esteem is dependent upon the presence of a professional sports franchise. We've all heard these bromides: "Without the Bills we're just Toledo." Jerry Sullivan presented a variation on this recently in the Buffalo News when he said that losing the Sabres would make us a "one-sport" city like Green Bay. Big deal! What are the things that make a city important or great? They are, in no particular order: business and commerce, ethnicity, neighborhoods, culture, restaurants, research and education, architecture, communications, etc. Definitely last on the list is sports. It is the icing on the cake and nothing more. Obviously I'm speaking of the larger world out there beyond sports.

Ironically, Buffalo was a great city before it ever had a big-league franchise. If anything, we probably look pathetic in our attempts to keep the two franchises going as the area continues to suffer economically. The Guest House of the Cleveland Clinic has the elevator instructions printed in English and Arabic for the obvious reason that a lot of visitors from the middle east go there. For many decades the Cleveland Orchestra has brought prestige to the city, even as that city's river burned! Does anyone seriously think that if Cleveland is known and respected in Berlin, Paris, Pakistan or wherever that it's because of the Browns or the Indians?! Again, I'm speaking of the larger world. Places like New Orleans and San Francisco have been famous, important cities for a very long time. This fame predates their gaining big-league franchises. Consider the varied ethnicity, restaurants and music of New Orleans. San Francisco had its style and panache long before Y.A Tittle became a star for the Fortyniners. On the other hand, Oakland has had a great deal of athletic success with the A's and Raiders, but it will always be the city across the bay from San Francisco.

It's astounding to think of all the wonderful things in this small city, a city that is sometimes down but never out, a city that sometimes seems to take three steps forward and two back. My God, we probably have more professional theatre companies per capita than any city in the country. The Albright-Knox continues to give us a great deal of national and international attention. Lesser-known organizations such as the CEPA Gallery and the Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center bring attention to our area. The Just Buffalo Literary organization is one of just a handful of such organizations in the country. There's no way a small city such as ours could have an orchestra as good as the Philharmonic, but we have it. We have three,yes three public radio stations-somewhat unusual for a small city. And I haven't even mentioned architecture.

Buffalo is not a backwater. We are not a pathetic place. We're real, and we don't need sports franchises to validate us. People who leave here often want to come back because of the good atmosphere and the friendliness. I know someone who's lived in Rome for years, and whenever she comes back she says how lucky we are to be here. Even if were to lose both the Bills and the Sabres (an awful thought, to be sure!) we'd still be a far cry from Green Bay. By the way, Toledo has a good museum which has given that city far more prestige than........the Mud Hens!.

Listener-Commentator Chet Mais is a professor of music at Daemen College in Amherst.