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What the NFL Owes Taxpaying Fans

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- This week, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito was suspended indefinitely by the team for hazing fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin to the point that he had to leave the team.

Yes, Miami fans, that is your business.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Incognito used racial epithets, references to Martin's sexual orientation and other taunts to prod Martin and continue a pattern that began -- and by all accounts should have ended -- after Martin's rookie season in 2012. Though Martin apparently didn't go to coach Joe Philbin to complain -- potentially because Incognito was on the Dolphins' six-player "leadership council" and may not have taken kindly to having Martin go over his head -- Philbin took responsibility for the environment in his locker room. The NFL players' union is now investigating Martin's case as harassment.

So where do Miami fans come in? It isn't great to lose two members of your team's offensive line without anyone playing a down of football, but they're not the coach or the Dolphins' owners, right? They shouldn't have any say in personnel decisions or matters concerning team behavior or player safety, should they?

As long as ownership and the league in general keeps using them as an ATM, of course they should. In fact, they already have. A combination of a terrible economy and a similarly awful on-field product has shrunk Dolphins season ticket sales from 61,000 in 2006 to little more than 40,000 last year. The team is 4-4 and has had exactly three winning seasons and one playoff appearance within the last decade.

Current Dolphins owner Stephen Ross spent much of 2008 buying up the Dolphins' stadium and surrounding land and pocketed $37.5 million from Canadian life insurance firm Sun Life Financial in a naming rights deal. He has since floated several ideas for stadium upgrades, including a $200 million hotel tax to cover a partial roof, but has been unsuccessful in convincing local government and taxpayers that it's a good idea.

Never mind that the Miami-Dade area has been a little skittish about spending since the housing crisis slammed both buyers and homeowners there. Both the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County have been openly hostile toward anyone who even suggests that public money go toward a sporting venue, especially after both the city and country were left on the hook for nearly $510 million on the $634 million initial costs of building Marlins Park for Major League Baseball's Miami Marlins. Paying off the bonds will cost the country nearly $2.4 billion over the next 40 years, while the Marlins keep almost all revenue from the stadium - even for events that aren't Marlins games.

Voters weren't above voting against stadium-endorsing City Commissioner Joe Sanchez in his run for Miami's mayoral office while Miami-Dade voters flat-out recalled Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez over his backing of the stadium. The Marlins, meanwhile, repaid the taxpayers' investment by jettisoning the overwhelming majority of the team's star players at the end of 2012. The Marlins finished with the worst record in the National League in 2013 and were only beaten for the worst record in Major League Baseball by the equally tight-fisted Houston Astros -- baseball's most profitable team of all time with nearly $100 million going right to the front office this season.

Now Miami regularly listens to the Dolphins and Ross ask them to consider paying half of the $350 million in costs for the stadium renovations Ross is proposing. Miami, the county and just about everyone else Ross has hit up for public cash has told him where he can stick his request.

But maybe that's not the best use of their outrage. Many of those taxpayers are still Dolphins fans, after all, and the sudden loss of that team in itself doesn't make their lives any better. Since they have what the Dolphins want, maybe it's time that a group of NFL fans used some of the same leverage that team ownership has been using against them for years.

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