Upon further review, Art Modell says he was just trying to point out how the area around the Los Angeles Coliseum has improved since the 1965 Watts riots when he was quoted as criticizing the area as a new potential stadium site.
"They misinterpreted [what I said]," the Ravens owner said yesterday. "It was designed to show how bad it was during the Watts riots and what it is now. But I've straightened it out. It was a one-shot thing that will be forgotten tomorrow."
Modell's comments caused a controversy at the NFL meetings in San Diego earlier this week, leading Modell to apologize to a Los Angeles City Councilman Wednesday and promise to visit the area.
"I had a good conversation with this Ridley [Mark Ridley-Thomas] fellow," he said. "It was an attempt at humor when I said the fans hit us harder than the Rams did. Everything was taken out of context. I'm going out there some time later. I promised the City Council I would go. I saw the models [of the new stadium]. Now I get to see it [the area] live."
The flap started because a contingent from Los Angeles, trying to bring an NFL team back to the nation's second-largest market, displayed models of a proposed new stadium at the site of the Coliseum at the San Diego meetings.
Reporters then asked several owners Tuesday what they thought of the idea of building a stadium on that site.
The owners appear to be more concerned about the recent riots in the wake of the Rodney King beating than about the Watts riots. But they tended to be cautious in their comments about the minority neighborhood.
Pat Bowlen, owner of the Denver Broncos said, "Generally, you're going to have to sell the Coliseum site. There haven't been too many happy experiences for many of us at the Coliseum. I'm not sure the Coliseum is even on the table. If it is, there would have to be changes."
Modell's comments were much more colorful.
Modell, whose Cleveland Browns played the Rams in 1965 shortly after the Watts riots, said, "Of course, it might be better now, but I remember we had to have tanks to escort us to the game. My team played there during the Watts riots, so I don't have great memories of the place. It's not a great neighborhood. We used to avoid playing playing them at night during the preseason. I was afraid my players would get hit harder by the crowd than the Rams or Raiders."
He added, "Apparently they've cleaned it up and they've got a big stadium plan afoot."
The Raiders, who moved back to Oakland in 1995, played at the Coliseum from 1983-1984. The Rams, who moved from Cleveland in 1946, played at the Coliseum until 1980 when they moved to Anaheim. They moved to St. Louis in 1995.
Ridley-Thomas, the Los Angeles city councilman who represents the area, criticized Modell's comments, calling them, "blatantly irresponsible, gratuitously disparaging, uninformed at best and irresponsible at worst."
He noted the University of Southern California campus is near the Coliseum and that Notre Dame has played USC there at night with no problems.
Ridley-Thomas added: "It is clearly divisive and patently irresponsible for people to damn an area by implication because by implication they are talking about the people. It panders to the worst notion and part of American history. I don't know what he thinks he's accomplishing. It would be better for him to keep his own counsel than advancing the perspective that is completely incorrect advancing stereotypic images of an environment and people that will not be tolerated. It doesn't reflect well on him or this league."
Modell then apologized to Ridley-Thomas on Wednesday to defuse the situation. He said he would support a team for Los Angeles.
Pub Date: 5/23/97