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Column: Lessons from 'The Blind Side'

ST. PAUL -- With the Vikings stadium debate still occupying center stage this legislative season, one can't help but think of another football drama that played out on the big screen a few years ago.

The 2009 movie "The Blind Side," starring Sandra Bullock in her Academy Award- winning Best Actress role, wasn't just a heartwarming story about overcoming adversity and perseverance on the football field. It also contained an important message for today's state lawmakers. The message for the legislators is not about the value of an NFL franchise, but how to play as a team and your role on the team.

In the movie, which is based on a true story, a young man named Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron) bounces from foster home to foster home and finally finds a family in an unexpected place when he meets Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and is taken in by her wealthy southern family.

While Leigh Anne helps Michael get back on track in school, she learns that although he scored very low in almost every category in a career aptitude test, his 'protective instincts' were in the 98th percentile. After struggling to improve his grades, Michael starts playing football. At first his polite and gentle nature makes him ill-suited for the contact sport. But Leigh Anne helps Michael tap into his "protective instincts" and coaches him to think of his teammates as family members who need protection.

With this motherly advice, Michael has a change of perception. After spending his entire life trying to find his place in the world, he can finally see his role as a family member and a football player. The Tuohys adopt Michael, and he becomes a star football player who not only excels in the college game but goes on to be drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens -- for whom he is the starting left tackle.

So what is the important message from this film for our lawmakers? It is quite simple -- "protective instincts."

In the game of football, most quarterbacks are right-handed. This means they face right when they drop back to pass, leaving them blind to an opponent who is rushing them from the left side. Therefore, the key blocker to protect them from the blind side hit is the left offensive tackle. Once Michael understood his role as a left offensive tackle -- the protector of the quarterback -- he was a natural.

This important lesson can be applied to the political gridiron, as well. For example, legislators can be viewed as the left offensive tackle of the taxpayers. The legislators' role is protecting the interests of their constituents, like the left tackle protecting the quarterback. In the political game of public financing for a new Vikings stadium, the role of the opponent is played by the New Jersey billionaire who is desperately trying to tackle the taxpayer. Legislators should be there to protect the interests of the home team -- their taxpaying constituents.

On the football field and at the State Capitol, any good offensive tackle always knows where their quarterback is. In a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, 59 percent of the respondents opposed any public financing for a new Vikings stadium. After five months of constant pounding by Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, Gov. Mark Dayton and the media for a new billion dollar stadium, the majority of voters still oppose financing the project with taxpayers' money. Even under the threat of the team leaving Minnesota, 39 percent of the people responded by saying "let them leave" vs. using taxpayer funding.

If you doubt these numbers or think the most recent survey is a fluke, check the results of any survey on public stadium funding over the last 10 years. Every time the public is asked, the result is the same -- 60 to 70 percent of taxpayers are opposed to paying for a new Vikings stadium. So why do legislators continue to propose spending hundreds of millions of Minnesota taxpayers money to subsidize a New Jersey billionaire? They seem to have forgotten that their number one job is to protect the interests of their constituents.

Last year, the Vikings spent half a million dollars lobbying the legislature to approve more than $600 million in taxpayer funding for a new stadium. As quarterbacks, the taxpayers have done their part to play offense on public funding for a new stadium. They have fought for a vote on a charter amendment in Ramsey County, signed petitions in opposition and testified at stadium hearings. But the game isn't over -- they are still under attack and need their elected officials to block for them.

Maybe legislators have never seen the movie "The Blind Side," or perhaps they are confused about the role they play at the Capitol. Some may even consider this metaphor too hypothetical. But, having participated in both arenas, my experience is that it's absolutely true.

As legislators take the field in the political game of public financing for a new Vikings stadium, they need to remember whose team they are on. It's time to take off the "New Jersey Billionaire" jersey and put on the "Minnesota Taxpayer" jersey. Legislators should sharpen their "protective instincts" in their role as the defenders of the taxpayer or the billionaire owner and his multi-millionaire players will win.

Phil Krinkie is a former state representative and president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.