The WFL’s Detroit Wheels could have served as a model of one of the first racially diverse professional sports’ ownership groups had Gary Davidson been inclined to hold them up as such. That he sought ownership from almost anyone willing to hand him a minimal amount of money obscured the fact that the Detroit owners’ group truly had the potential to set a new standard in sports. The truth however, is that the Wheels’ ownership was an unwieldy group of individuals of rather modest financial means who saw the opportunity to bask in the glow of status and stardom. From the start it was doomed to failure.
The man in the public eye was former University Of Michigan running back Louis Lee, a young attorney who had endeared himself to the African-American population of Detroit due to his community involvement. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young performed the behind-the-scenes political work, greasing the skids so that use of Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium for Wheels’ home games was agreed to. A total of thirty-four owners, some well heeled but most who put up what may have been their life’s savings made for a diverse ownership group that knew little about football. Reportedly, $10,000.00 to $16,000.00 could, with no pun intended, make you a “big wheel” in Detroit! Some had the means to make it work, including Motown Records Vice President Esther Edwards and respected attorney William Browning. Most did not and none believed the realistic prediction of Bob Fenton, an attorney representing a rival group that had bid for the WFL franchise when he stated that “it would take maybe $3 million a year outlay for four straight years before a franchise could expect to produce profits…” Lee, at twenty-eight years of age was left to run the operation, the first Black and youngest president of any pro sports franchise.
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