I would say I was shocked by the way Lowell Cohn tore into Jed York in his recent column, but I would be fibbing. Cohn called York, a man in his mid-30s, “son” eight times. His final line was “Go away, son.” It was like the climactic point of a movie, when the wise, well-meaning protagonist gets rid of the slimy, entitled villain once and for all.
It was also the logical evolution of Cohn’s approach to summarizing York’s tenure in print. In late November of 2014, he provided not just an etiquette lesson, but an offer to take York out to lunch at Specialty’s Cafe to discuss how a youngish CEO should comport himself.
At least back then it seemed like Cohn believed York still had some redeeming qualities. Not so anymore.
Here’s what should happen. Your parents should promote you, one of those promotions with quotation marks around it. You parents should acknowledge all your hard work. Let you handle stadium concerts, Wrestlemania at Levi’s, minor-league soccer — stuff like that. Everything that doesn’t involve football.
If what Cohn suggested in yesterday’s column actually came to pass, 49ers fans from Eureka to Fresno would dance in the streets.
Then the smoke would clear and we’d realize nothing had changed. This isn’t Jed’s team. It’s not even Dr. John’s team. This is Denise DeBartolo York’s team, and other than the stadium address and the head coach every 2.5 years, nothing will change as long as she’s in charge.
If anything, Jed has been a tremendous son. (Sorry Jed, I swear I didn’t mean that in a snarky way.) Picture an army of columnists, radio hosts, bloggers, season ticket holders and Twitter egg accounts all firing arrows at the York family, only Jed is absorbing at least 99% of them.
Imagine if Dr. John was still the team’s main spokesperson now, during an age of social media when people are waiting all day, every day, to pounce on something they don’t like. Dr. John was reviled to a degree that Chris Cohan never was in the mid-2000s, simply because the Warriors didn’t really matter as much when Cohan and Bobby Rowell were busy running the team past the earth’s surface and crust, deep into the magma below. Now, with Jed front-and-center, Dr. John and his wife can hide from the press and the fans while still maintaining the same control over finances they had throughout the 2000s.
Every time I tweet a joke about the 49ers or the latest in my long (probably too long) list of stories criticizing Trent Baalke, I get at least a half-dozen replies to me and @JedYork, as if Jed will see the tweets in his mentions, spend more money on the team, and feel bad about himself.
OK, maybe the last part occurs from time to time. Here’s what York said on Jan. 4 after firing “Jimmy T.”
“I’d say the biggest thing, I think I’ve taken things too personally. Interactions with the media, some of the criticism from fans, I think I’ve internalized that too much and I’ve taken it too personally. I think I’ve done things and we can get into tweets that I’ve sent and thank god you can’t see tweets that I didn’t send. Those things aren’t helpful for the team. As much as I’d like to share how I feel about the team, it’s not helpful for our club for me to talk about how I feel when we win, how I feel when we lose. It’s ultimately a distraction. It’s hard enough to win football games in the National Football League. It’s harder when you have somebody that tweets something that’s a distraction to the club and I can’t do that. I think you’ve seen me take a step back from twitter and from other social media and I think it’s important for our team and that it’s important for our fans to have a good clear communication with the club. But, I’m emotional. I learned that from my uncle. Both of us put holes in walls. Both of us have screamed and yelled and said things that we wish we could take back. Some behind the scenes, sometimes in front of the public and I can’t be a distraction to this team. The world is so much different today than I think when my uncle ran the team. It’s not a one-day news cycle. It’s a 24-hour, literally a second-by-second news cycle and I can’t add to that.”
He knows how the fans feel, and he knows they love his uncle more now than ever. That’s probably why he mentioned “my uncle” seven times during that press conference. But despite all that, Eddie DeBartolo is never coming back.
There’s a clear rift within the family …
Well, she Bam Davis’d the evidence: multiple tweets of recent columns by Lowell and Ann were deleted. But screenshots are easy to come by. pic.twitter.com/7GQpjFPumr
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) October 18, 2016
… and this is the Yorks’ team now. And if mom and dad reassigned Jed as Cohn suggests they should, who would be his replacement? Paraag Marathe? Denise’s Labrador retriever? (For the record, I don’t know if she currently owns any pets.) It’s not like they’re going to find (and pay) the next John McVay or even Carmen Policy.
We all know that the young Jedi has made some unfortunate decisions. The way he bought into Mike Singletary showed his naivete. Texting “We’re going to win the division” to Adam Schefter after Singletary’s team started 0-5 in 2010 showed an especially brash kind of cluelessness. We can keep going on and on about Baalke and Jim Harbaugh and Jimmy T until this post stretches past 2,000 words, but let’s let the dead horse deteriorate on its own.
If you’re a young 49ers fan who has never seen a Super Bowl win, being angry is understandable. And Jed is the obvious target, because he’s the highest-ranking executive that we get to see and even hear once or twice a year. He’s the one on Twitter, he’s the one who said “accountable” and “win with class,” and many call him the owner even though technically he is not the owner.
When it was reported over a decade ago that the Yorks’ plan was to put Jed in charge in short order, the reaction wasn’t YAY, A YOUNG FRESH MIND WILL LEAD THIS TEAM BACK TO GLORY. It was more like GREAT, IF THE APPLE FALLS DIRECTLY BELOW THE TREE THIS TEAM WILL BE SCREWED FOR MULTIPLE DECADES.
Most of us know next to nothing about Denise. Here’s a tidbit from a fantastic profile by Nancy Gay that ran in the Chronicle over 16 years ago.
A petite woman with huge brown eyes, a quick laugh and a love for bright red lipstick — “People love to write about it, but that’s who I am,” she says — DeBartolo York now oversees the huge business empire started by her father, Edward DeBartoloSr. She is, by all accounts, an astute, intelligent businesswoman whose net worth as of last October was listed at $700 million by Forbes magazine.
Yet in Youngstown, she is known simply as Denise or ‘Nise. Although she and her family live in a palatial home surrounded by a gate and 129 acres, the doors squeak in her 2- year-old Chrysler Sebring convertible, and the seats are covered with dog hair. She doesn’t care if her overweight Labrador retrievers, Butterscotch and Chocolate, chomp on bones on the marble floors. And there is no full-time help.
DeBartolo York walks by a huge dining table and fingers its pretty sage linen tablecloth. “Isn’t this great?” she says. “T.J. Maxx. $24.99.”
The story is dripping with resentment from Denise toward her brother Eddie, for spending lavishly and forcing her to sue “to recover $94 million in debts owed by him.” She ended up with the 49ers as a result after previously being a silent 50/50 partner with Eddie, and the rest is history.
Eddie D is now a Hall-of-Famer, still a fan favorite. The Yorks are reviled, Jed most of all. It’s fair in that Jed seems to enjoy the limelight a little too much at times when things go well, but his parents have been skating for years and there’s no guarantee anything would improve if Jed left. In fact, things could get even worse! (It sounds impossible, but at least Jed was able to land Harbaugh for a short while.)
If Jed never existed and the team had the same results under the Yorks (124-137 record, well on their way to 12 non-playoff seasons out of 17), Dr. John would be hated in this region more than every Dodger, Seahawk, Cowboy, Chief, Bronco, Cavalier, Clipper, Laker and L.A. King combined. At some point the fans would start mentioning @ in all of their angry tweets, too.
Jed has contributed to this team’s problems. But in the grand scheme is he more a symptom than *the* problem with this franchise. Sports are cyclical, and that’s something York and Baalke backers point out when they discuss the team’s most recent downturn. But as long as this family is in charge, and they feel like they can weather the ever-mounting criticism as long as their operating income stays high (it’s been over $100 million each year since Levi’s opened), we’re probably going to see this same unfortunate cycle repeat itself for the foreseeable future — even if Jed leaves his post as CEO and gets into politics or something.