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Better Hate An Owner

For Shahid Khan, And For Every Other Billionaire, The Money Is The Point

Illustration by Jim Cooke

Welcome to Better Hate An Owner, a recurring feature in which we learn more about all those awful old people who get to hold the trophy first at championship ceremonies. Today’s entry is about Shahid Khan.

How much of his soul did he lose in making his money?

Shahid Khan didn’t necessarily sell his soul to amass his fortune. Ah, but to KEEP that fortune … that’s another matter. Khan emigrated here from Pakistan when he was 16 and went to college at the University of Illinois. He started his own automotive parts business using money from the SBA and from his personal savings. He then used the success of that business to buy Flex-N-Gate, which sounds like a baby-proofing product but is in fact a manufacturer of car bumpers. From there, Khan secured deals with BIG AUTOMOBILE to mass produce bumpers for Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Suzuki. Scattered through America are people who became filthy rich by finding success in little niche industries like this one. Glen Taylor earned his billions through the wedding invite business. Khan did likewise, not through cars themselves, but from the goddamn bumpers.

This is, if you buy into the American Dream myth, the inspiring story of an immigrant who paid his dues and used his business savvy to amass a healthy, and ethical, fortune. But there’s always a but to this now, isn’t there? Would you believe that Khan has never made the safety of his workers one of his top priorities? According to OSHA documents, Flex-N-Gate exposed its own workers to high levels of hydrochloric acid. Oh, and its workers have been routinely subjected to plant temperatures in the 90s, denied vital protective equipment, and surreptitiously replaced with freelancers during the pandemic. Last summer, a reporter from the World Socialist Web Site spoke to workers from the Flex-N-Gate plant in Detroit:

Describing the failure of the company to provide safe working conditions, a worker we will call Sharlayne said, “Before the corona, it was nasty. They hired a shift person to clean the bathroom because at first it was bad; we could smell the sewer for 10 months. The fans are covered, there’s no partitions, there’s no hand sanitizer, there’s no masks.”Tonya, who has lost six family members to COVID-19, said the company refused her request for a day off to attend a funeral. “These people would not excuse me for going to my family member’s funeral. They did not even want me to use vacation time. This is when I found out they’re not approving anyone’s vacation time. I even asked if I could use one of my vacation days and they said no. So, I had to call off because I am not going to just not go to my family funeral.”

Oh, and the ENVIRONMENTAL DESECRATION! Let’s not forget about that. The United Auto Workers have accused Flex-N-Gate’s Detroit plant of leaking hexavalent chromium into the ground, thus contaminating the surrounding areas. Symptoms of hexavalent chromium poisoning can include a hole in the part of your nasal septum that divides the two nostrils. I bet that’s fucking GREAT for party tricks.

Is he a fail-child?

No, but Khan has amassed the kind of new money that becomes old money. Khan has two children. One of them, his son Tony, already holds front-office positions with both the Jacksonville Jaguars, the AEW, and the hilariously inept EPL team Fulham, which Khan also owns. Tony, who read Deadspin back when all of us worked there (well played, sir), already alienated his own Fulham players last fall thanks to the wonders of shitposting, and presided over AEW's embarrassing pyrotechnic finale at its Revolution pay-per-view. If that doesn’t scream failson potential to you, well then you must be the heir to an oil fortune yourself. I don’t even know how you found this website, to be frank.

How much public financing has he sucked out of the community?

It’s hard to say because when Khan bought the Jaguars from founding owner Wayne Weaver, he also acquired the public money slant-drilling apparatus that came along with the team. The Jaguars' stadium is a piece of shit. It has a pool, which is no doubt filled with equal parts hexavalent chromium and gonorrhea., but little else going for it 

And yet, the stadium that was once the Gator Bowl takes no small amount of money to maintain. Since the Jaguars' inception, the city of Jacksonville has shelled out incremental golden parachutes to the team to get Khan’s stadium closer to the platinum standards of other NFL clubs. The first parachute cost Jacksonville $121 million. The next cost $43 million (after Khan bought the team). The next cost $45 million. None of that has been enough. As of November, the Jags are asking for another $100 million, and that’s not even for the goddamn stadium. That’s to build a Four Seasons hotel near it. Imagine staying at a Four Seasons, only it’s in Jacksonville. Money wasted in every direction. 

I haven’t even gotten to the money the Jaguars receive from their swamp prison of a home state. As of February 2019, Florida gave the Jags nearly $50 million as part of the state’s Sports Development Program, which doles out subsidies to every pro sports team residing in it. A bill to finally end that program was passed by Florida’s state house last year. Once the pandemic hit, that bill languished, unable to get formally rubber-stamped by the Florida Senate or by Governor/toilet demon Ron DeSantis. Then it died.

Keep in mind that Khan doesn’t actually own the Jaguars' stadium. According to Ken Amaro of First Coast News, one former city councilman believes that instead of constantly upgrading the stadium just to keep Khan happy, the city of Jacksonville should just GIVE it to Khan outright and let it be his problem from now on. This is where we’re at in stadium grift history now, where it’s easier for a city to simply give a billionaire its stadium rather than deal with him in any other fashion. The Jaguars are a sunk cost. A fucking lemon. When Khan finally moves this team to London, that city will find out the same thing for itself. The hard way.

The Epstein Degree: How many degrees removed from Jeffrey Epstein is he?

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Robert Kraft is longtime pals with Donald Trump, and also hired a lawyer who also represented Epstein. We'll say that makes Khan three degrees removed.

What are his political affiliations?

Look through Khan’s donor history and you see the usual smattering of cross-party donations to gain favor with whoever he needs to gain favor with at the time. Democrats outnumber Republicans on that list by about a 3-to-1 margin. But of course, that ratio means NOTHING when you remember that Khan gave Trump’s 2016 inauguration committee $1 million. When you give Donald Trump money, I know exactly who you are.

Does he own a ludicrous boat?

Reader, you know he does. Say hello to the Kismet. I believe I watched Kenneth Branagh get shot to death on that boat in Tenet.

If you don't pay very close attention, it's easy to see Shahid Khan send out a lucid, forceful anti-racism statement during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer and come to the conclusion that, as far as billionaires and sports owners go, he's one of the good ones. But for every nice gesture Khan has lent toward social progress, there are a thousand cruel gestures he’s made to combat it. He’s short-changed and endangered his own plant workers. He’s poisoned neighborhoods. He hired veteran disgrace collector Urban Meyer as head coach, and then let Meyer hire a racist-ass assistant before the PR blowback from that move became too much of a pain in the ass for Khan to bear. 

Superficially, Khan is a “better” owner than established, unapologetic shitbags like Dan Snyder or Jerry Jones. But the truth is that they’re all skinning the same cat. No matter how genuine Khan may come across in crisis moments, he’s still using his consciousness as a commodity. Every moral decision is strictly a business decision, even if Khan really does mean what he says. All of the collateral damage he’s caused in maintaining his power and wealth negates whatever is tangibly weighing on his conscience.

And that makes Khan’s success not a feel-good story, but actually a horrifying one. No matter where these billionaires come from, they all end up with the same inner motivations. Khan has enough money to build his own goddamn Jerryworld. He has enough money to treat his plant workers better. He has enough money to give every citizen of Jacksonville—every man, woman, and child—$9,000 in cash. He doesn’t do any of those things. He will never do any of those things. This is because he would not have his money anymore. 

And, for all obscenely wealthy Americans, the money is the point.

Money, in theory, is only as valuable as what it can buy. That’s what makes it baffling, on first blush, that none of these motherfuckers ever spend any of theirs. But we’re long past the point in human history where money acts as an agreed-upon conduit for the transaction of goods and services. The money ITSELF is valuable to Khan and his buddies. If they could buy anything with their money, it would be more money. And that’s precisely what all of them do.

Imagine going to the ATM and taking out $200. Feels nice to have $200 in your hand, right? You haven’t bought anything with that $200 yet, but who gives a shit? Just seeing the cash and HOLDING it is its own lovely experience. Ever dream of swimming around in gold coins, or lying on a bed covered in thousands? Ever watch a heist movie and marvel at the money shot of the cash bag? Of course you have, because the money itself is its own luxury item. Maybe the BEST luxury item.

And so rich people are, both out of conditioning and out of human instinct, protective of their fortunes, regardless of how large those fortunes may be. Wealth security is so ingrained in the American upper class that it’s its own industry, with universal customs and mandates. If you have a will drawn up, the goal is to minimize any tax burden on you or your descendants. If you save money, you put it in some kind of fund—IRA, foreign offshore shit—where Uncle Sam can’t touch it. The potential of your money is worth more than whatever that money can buy. It’s worth more than charity. It’s worth more than love. It’s worth more than justice. 

So the next time Shahid Khan says something nice and you think it’s a sign of progress, look back on his works. Remember that it’s all a handsome lie.

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