The grand Coliseum that residents of Los Angeles, city and county, built in the 1920s as a memorial to those who died in World War I has fallen prey to corporate greed. For $69 million, the Trojans sold the right to name the stadium to a private company. Henceforth, it will no longer be known as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Instead, it will be United Airlines Memorial Coliseum.
As County Supervisor Janice Hahn has noted, that diminishes the intent of the memorial, and she has urged the newly installed president of USC to reconsider the deal with United. Lots of luck, Janice, because even though United has relented a bit and seems willing to put its name on the playing field instead of the entire Memorial Coliseum, you are dealing with a university which has nearly a century-long history of meddling with our Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
In the 1920s and '30s, beginning the day the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum opened, the real decision-making power regarding use of the stadium belonged to the University of Southern California, not the puppet administrators called the Coliseum Commission. In 2013, following a series of scandals that brought the Coliseum to the verge of bankruptcy, a contract negotiated largely in secret turned control of one of the city's gems back to the Trojans, once dubbed the "football fuhrers."
USC's lack of civic concern in the past about use of the monument to America's World War I dead was a warning that was ignored six years ago when the Trojans took control of the stadium.
USC's lack of civic concern in the past about use of the monument to America's World War I dead was a warning that was ignored six years ago when the Trojans took control of the stadium. SC's arrogant attitude in the controversy over professional football at the Coliseum should have provided a clue.
From day one the Trojans promoted the idea that the Coliseum was to be a symbol of amateurism. When the stadium's first managers drew up policies for Coliseum use, they prohibited professional football. USC would have no competition from the pros.
Throughout the 1930s, American Legion posts in Los Angeles indicated an interest in sponsoring pro games at the Coliseum. The Coliseum Commission squelched the Legion effort, resolving that allowing professionals on the field would jeopardize the spirit of amateurism that had been the hallmark of the Coliseum since its opening.
Sports writers Art Cohn and Dick Hyland dismissed amateurism as the reason. USC, the biggest revenue producer among the tenants, threatened to move its games to the Rose Bowl if the pros played at the Coliseum. Cohn and Hyland were convinced the Trojans were bluffing.
The city's newspapers tried to rent the Coliseum for a 1939 charity game, featuring the Washington Redskins against an all-star team. The Coliseum Commission routinely rejected the bid, renting the stadium instead to another group that wanted it the same day for a political rally. Columnist Bill Henry, who was instrumental in bringing the 1932 Olympics to the Coliseum, was certain that USC's opposition had blocked the game. He labeled the Trojans "Football Fuhrers," who dictated policy to commissioners who were fearful that the Trojans would leave the Coliseum.
Under great pressure from the city's dailies, a crack in the "amateur only" policy appeared in 1941. The success of what by then was called "The Pro Bowl," an annual charity game played by professional teams at Wrigley Field or Gilmore Stadium, forced SC to give in.
The Coliseum Commission, for the first time, would allow pro teams on the field, but only after the regular and post season college games were over. Tickets for the Jan. 4, 1942, game went on sale on Dec. 8,... the day after war came to America. A week later the West Coast army commander, canceled Pasadena's Rose Bowl game, the Rose Parade... and the Pro Bowl, which was moved to New York City.
Finally, without objection from the army or SC, the first appearance of pro players on the Coliseum turf took place for charity on Aug. 30, 1942. The Washington Redskins beat an Army all-star team before a crowd of 50,000.
Four years later the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles and, despite some reluctance from USC, to the floor of the Coliseum.
What of the future? That 2013 deal has given the Trojans even more control over the Coliseum. One clause in that contract allowed the sale of naming rights, which led to the current debacle. The Trojans show no indication that their arrogance has abated when it comes to dominating the future of our memorial stadium.
With one, perhaps two, new stadiums to be built for professional football, SC's "football fuhrers" will once again return the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the amateurs.
Ralph E. Shaffer