Nashville Sold Its Soul — to the NFL

I moved to Nashville in the winter of 1994. I’ll be here 22 years come February. That’s nearly twice as long as I’ve lived anywhere in my entire 65 years.

I came here because the size and character of the city appealed to me after two years in Los Angeles in the early 90s; my previous permanent address was Lahaina, Maui. So trust me when I say I didn’t come here for the sailing, surfing, and snorkeling.

I think the decision to live here was made when I flew back to L.A. after a brief visit about this time in December, 1993: A few seconds after my flight left the ground, I looked out the window and saw rolling green country as far as the eye could see. A couple of hours later everything started turning red-brown as the plane began its descent into L.A. A few weeks later — after sign from God in the form of an earthquake that leveled parts of Los Angeles — I became a resident of Music City, USA.

Nashville maintained its unique charm — its “city in the country”quality – for most of the time that I have lived here. But in the past year, or maybe the past several years, there have been increasing realizations that the character of the city is changing — and not necessarily for the better.

Over this past weekend I read a couple of lamentations about how Nashville is “losing its soul” to an accelerating cycle of destruction and development.

Coincidentally, this morning, I looked at the headlines in the local paper and learned that our local NFL franchise, the Tennessee Titans, finished this year’s homestand with a 34–6 loss (ironically, to the team that replaced them in Houston…), nearing the end of what will likely be a 2–14 season.

And that’s when it hit me: this city sold its soul to the NFL, and a hopelessly losing franchise may be all we have to show for the deal.

For example: In an eloquent post to her personal blog, filmmaker and activist Molly Secours laments the pending elimination of free, 10-minutes worth of parking in the loading zone outside baggage claim at Nashville International Airport:

The latest announcement to eliminate the 10-minute parking spaces at the Nashville Airport is merely one — seemingly insignificant — indicator of the city’s loss of soul.

BNA is one of few major airports in the country where one has the opportunity to greet a loved one outside baggage claim. On any given day, hundreds — maybe thousands — of people arriving are greeted by family, friends or business associates who are able to say: “I’ll be waiting for you out front”.

There has always been something very hospitable and ‘uniquely Nashville’ about the convenience and beauty of this kind of reception. And most visitors are pleasantly surprised and relieved upon discovering a familiar face sitting on the bumper of a vehicle with the trunk popped awaiting their arrival.

So, say goodbye to that folksy southern convenience sometime next year. I guess the authorities that run BNA have decided they’re losing too much parking revenue by offering a few minutes of free parking for the benefit of arriving travelers. Welcome to Nashville. Now pay up…

Elsewhere, this past weekend observered numerous odes to the closing of Noshville, the mid-town faux-NY deli that was a favorite breakfast spot for the full spectrum of Nashville cognoscenti — a place where artists and business people alike shared bagels and bacon.

The closing was accompanied by a red herring tossed into the stew by the proprietor who claimed he could no longer accommodate the costs associated with the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”):

In a statement, Noshville owner Tom Loventhal said he originally planned to continue operating the restaurant into 2016, but the rising cost of insurance premiums and government requirements related to the Affordable Care Act presented an “unacceptable risk.”

…but everbody knows that’s bullshit (in part because two other “Noshville” locations will remain open even after the flagship has closed). Closing a revered diner was strictly part-and-parcel of a real-estate transaction:

The announcement comes after developer Land purchased the Noshville property and surrounding sites for a planned 25-story mixed-use development.

So a favorite watering hole will soon become another feature on a skyline dominated by cranes and condos.

Meanwhile, a once navigable-city has surrendered to grinding traffic at all times of the day througouht the metropolitan area. Not a days goes by that I dont think Nashville’s new mantra should be: “You can’t get there from here; if you can get there, there’s no place to park; if you can find a place to park, it’ll cost you $40 for a few hours…”

Nashville is surely not the only city experiencing this sort of growth and its consequences. The gross domestic product may be growing too slowly for the satisfaction of Wall Street and wing-nut zealots, but the economy has been expanding since the depths of the Crisis of ’08, and that means lots of urban areas are experiencing growth and redevelopment. Nashville is certainly not alone in that regard.

But I wonder how many urban areas in the country are in the midst of the kind of lurching identity crisis that Nashville seems to be suffering over the loss of its “soul.”

After reading about the Titans latest failure to show up on a Sunday, I visited The Google, and discovered a recent historical factor in which Nashville is truly unique. Consider this excerpt from a Wikipedia page ennumerating the relocations of major league sports franchises in the past two decades:

1997: Houston Oilers moved to Memphis and became the Tennessee Oilers. The team originally planned to play both 1997 and 1998 in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis before moving to their intended destination of Nashville. However, due to poor attendance, the team moved to Nashville in 1998, playing in Vanderbilt University’s stadium. The team was renamed as the Titans in 1999, when their new stadium was opened. The NFL granted Houston a new expansion franchise in 2002.

Read between the lines and you’ll realize that since 1997, Nashville is the only city in these United States that has obtained an NFL franchise where there was none before.

So if the problems besetting Nashville — this loss of the city’s “soul” — seem more acute than those of other cities… perphaps that’s your explanation.

It’s taken almost 20 years, but now the Devil is getting his due. I dare say that it is precisely because of this single factor that we are seeing what it really means to be transformed into a ‘major league city.’ Nashville sold its soul to a Devil called the National Football League and the entire city is now paying the price of that diabolical bargain.

And all we have to show for it now is a $300-million stadium that only gets used 8 times a year and team that can’t get out of its own fucking way.

When the Titans take the field next week against the Colts in Indianapolis and get trounced again by a team from another Major League City*, just remember: this is the bargain the city made. The Benevolent City Fathers (i.e. then mayor Phil Bredesen) decided they wanted Nashville to be a “Major League” city. We got our NFL team, and the white elephant on the banks of the Cumberland that went with it.

One thing led to another: The city started showing up frequently on National TeeVee and eventually got its own series on a major network.

Now you can’t get a seat at the Bluebird and you can’t get there from here. And that lovely old Queen Anne on Music Row will be replaced by another glass-and-steel tower that will cater to People Who Don’t Live Here.

This is the deal Nashville made when Phil Bredesen lured Bud Adams’ football team out of Houston in 1997.

Welcome to the Major Leagues, Nashville.

*The Colts moved to Indianapolis from Baltimore in 1984. It might be interesting to see if the people of Indianapolis lamented the loss of their city’s soul 20 years later. Conversely, I suspect that Nashville may be unique in having had a “soul” to lose in the first place…



Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store