Before March 31, 2011, Frank McCourt and Bryan Stow had little in common. McCourt was a Boston businessman and the unpopular owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Stow was a paramedic from Santa Cruz, Calif., and a fan of the rival San Francisco Giants.
Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the day McCourt and Stow became linked forever. At the nadir of McCourt’s unpopularity, with the iconic franchise barreling toward bankruptcy, Stow suffered brain damage in a brutal attack as he exited Dodger Stadium.
The incident became national news and an emotional flash point. At times, it was difficult to separate the compassion for Stow and disgust for McCourt. The narrative was both powerful and convenient: McCourt was running the team on the cheap while going through an expensive divorce. Many said that left inadequate security in the stadium and parking lots. Americans saw the photograph of Stow with his two children, a poignant image tinged with tragedy. Their blood boiled.
For days, there was a real possibility Stow would not survive. The Dodgers and Giants raised money for Stow’s family and spoke out against fan violence. While the manhunt for two suspects continued, the public needed to blame someone. That someone was Frank McCourt.
One year later, two men are awaiting trial, Stow is in the midst of a slow recovery, and McCourt is on his way out. McCourt announced Tuesday he’s agreed to sell the Dodgers for $2.15 billion to a group that includes controlling partner Mark R. Walter, longtime sports executive Stan Kasten and NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
It might be too soon, though, to assign a legacy to an incident that reverberated throughout the national consciousness. For one thing, the legal system has yet to have its say: In addition to the criminal case against Stow’s alleged attackers, Stow filed a lawsuit against the Dodgers. Tom Girardi, one of Stow’s attorneys, said in an interview this week that Stow, 43, is seeking about $57.5 million for pain, suffering and disability.
The Dodgers participate in a Major League Baseball insurance program that should protect them against cases of this type. If there is a judgment against the Dodgers, it’s likely to be covered by such a policy.
Financially speaking, Stow and McCourt are in drastically different circumstances. Girardi said Stow was forced to leave a top-notch rehabilitation facility in Santa Clara and move to a lesser place because his insurance money ran out. “We have no more money,” Girardi said. “We’re in a much more difficult rehabilitation setting than we were before.” McCourt, meanwhile, could walk away from the sale with a profit of hundreds of millions of dollars — and maybe more.
Girardi said he’s hopeful the new ownership group will “do the right thing — meaning settle.” The Dodgers might agree to do that, to avoid the public-relations catastrophe of a trial right at the beginning of what seems to be a new era of optimism surrounding the franchise.
Asked about Stow one day after the purchase agreement was announced, Johnson told ESPN, “Our prayers are still with him. It’s not good for the person who got attacked or the Dodger organization. It was a nationwide, worldwide story. It also shed a bad light on our great city. What we want to do is make sure that doesn’t happen again. Did we have enough security? If we didn’t, we’ll beef up the security.”
The omnipresence of that question — Do we need to do more to keep our fans safe? — might be the most positive impact Stow has made to the sports world. Many teams reassessed their security practices in the wake of the incident. No one will know how many deaths or injuries have been prevented as a result.
“We did review and make some changes in our parking lot security staffing, especially for big games,” said David Rinetti, vice president of stadium operations and security with the Oakland A’s. “We also met already this year with the Oakland Police Department to strategically position officers and parking staff for our games.”
Rick Vaughn, the Rays’ vice president of communications, said the team reviewed the incident and as a result “configured our security people a little differently” at Tropicana Field. Vaughn said stadium personnel were asked to remain vigilant and attentive to potential problems.
The Kansas City Royals, who will host this year’s All-Star Game, contracted with the crowd management company Contemporary Services Corporation to add a bicycle patrol in the expansive Kauffman Stadium parking lots.
Since the attack on Stow apparently was precipitated by a verbal altercation in the stands, some teams have encouraged ushers to be more proactive when disputes arise. “As much as we want to talk about security, it’s about the awareness and education of ushers,” said Tim Mead, the Angels’ vice president of communications. “That’s part of what they’re taught to do — identify potential hotspots. They become key players in this.”
Because of the pending litigation, a Dodgers spokesman declined to say this week what changes the team made to game security. “We are not going to comment on specifics related to the club’s security plans or operations other than to state that security is a paramount priority of the Dodgers,” the team said in a statement.
In the days following the incident, McCourt promised a “top-to-bottom review” of stadium security and hired former Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton as a consultant. That wasn’t enough for McCourt to win back the support of a fan base that has grown hostile toward him, nor was it enough to reverse Stow’s traumatic brain injuries. Girardi, the attorney, said Stow can’t walk without assistance. He speaks only haltingly. “It takes a couple people to get him out of bed and go to the bathroom,” Girardi said.
Stow’s family has maintained a website with updates on his condition. The most recent post was dated March 4 and included one bittersweet note: “We shared with you that we had a surprise birthday party for him. Despite all the people and the excitement, when asked, Bryan doesn’t remember, even when we asked him the day after.”
Of the change in facilities, the family wrote: “The move was tough. We think the long drive, combined with being in an unfamiliar place set Bryan back a bit, which we suppose is to be expected. He hasn’t been sleeping well since he got to the facility, barely has an appetite and at one point he said he was scared. All we can do is hug him, tell him he isn’t alone and try not to cry in front of him.”
The new season begins next week, with all the optimism of Opening Day. The Giants — Stow’s favorite team — have an excellent pitching staff and strong chance to make the playoffs. Dodgers fans see a new beginning in the sale to Johnson’s group, hoping an increased payroll (along with established stars Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw) will bring a championship to L.A.
Even McCourt can say his future is bright: The Dodgers’ record sale price means he can satisfy all creditors and settle the outstanding lawsuits — while having hundreds of millions of dollars leftover.
For everyone, this is a time of renewal and promise of better days ahead. Everyone, that is, except Bryan Stow.