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“I didn’t like him as a person. Nobody did.”
former Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley on ex-boss Jack Kent Cooke
“The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation shall be organized to award substantial scholarships to students pursuing a post-graduate degree who have shown unique overall excellence, both in academic endeavors and in extracurricular activities, during their undergraduate careers.”
Section Twelve, Paragraph C, of Cooke’s last will
When Jack Kent Cooke died in April 1997, it didn’t take long for underlings to surface with all sorts of tales of tyrannical behavior that they’d been afraid to tell while the boss still had a pulse. In one obituary, an associate recalled the time Cooke threw a hot dog at a food server just because he wanted more mustard.
But then his will came out, and, well, it became clear that Cooke, like Scrooge, had by the end of his life realized that he had some making up to do. Oh, sure, some immediate family members didn’t like the document: It stiffed Marlena, which is why the heavies from the Immigration and Naturalization Service still treat her like some green-card-less migrant worker. And,
of course, son John, who was bequeathed only $50 million, a Patek Philippe watch, and his pick of the litter of dad’s automobiles, didn’t get the football team he’d covertly run for 16 years. (Jr. didn’t inherit dad’s bizarre local title,
Even so, to anybody looking at the big picture instead of just the family portrait painted by the will, Cooke shone. He’d earmarked essentially all of his wealth to charity. And, thanks to his trustees’ handling of his estate, Cooke’s legacy sets him with the Rockefellers and the Hugheses in terms of benevolent sonsabitches.
And a big part of his wealth is tied up in Skins. The open-ended secret-bidding process used to unload the Redskins inspired a selling price of $800 millionor more than double the previous record amount paid for an existing U.S. sports franchise. By federal law, a trust has to disburse a minimum of 5 percent of its resources each yearmeaning that the Cooke Foundation, if and when it reaches the billion mark, could shell out $50 million or more in grants every year, according to a report in the Philanthropy Journal. To add some context to Cooke’s good deed: According to figures from U.S. News & World Report’s graduate school guide, for $50 million, the foundation could subsidize the entire student bodies of the Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins medical schools, and still have enough cash leftover to re-sign Leslie Shepherd to a generous five-year, $6.45 million deal.
But Cooke’s ascension to sainthood has been put on hold. His own son and the NFL owners he left behind are the primary culprits.
“This is a sad day for me and my family and our Redskins family,” John Kent Cooke whined on Jan. 11, in a prepared statement issued just after the big sale.
John Kent Cooke’s statement contained no mention of the charitable trust, of which he will be a director, or of the good that might one day come from the $800 million the Milstein brothers and Daniel Snyder bid on his father’s team. Cooke’s open letter also didn’t mention that he, as a 10 percent shareholder in the franchise, had personally netted $80 million in cash from that day’s sale. He didn’t mention his father, either.
The ingrate son did, however, brag that his own “ingenuity” had allowed him to make the second-highest bid. (Cooke’s reported offer of $680 million is now thought to be no better than third-highest.) Worst of all, when the Milstein/Snyder group hired a football consultant to begin repairing all the hell that Cooke Jr., Charley Casserly, and Norv Turner had wrought on the franchise since JKC stopped looking over their shoulders, he was barred from Redskin Park.
The son’s bad attitude trickled down to NFL headquarters. Rather than approving the sale and letting all that scholarship money start earning interest, the league and those who pull Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s strings have done, in essence, nothing. Nothing, that is, save yanking the chains of the Milstein brothers and Daniel Snyder. Once the owners got assurances that during the Skins auction John Cooke had gotten a fair deal from the estatehe was an executor, after allthey began acting like congressional Republicans during the impeachment proceedings. Everybody knows how this charade will ultimately end: The Milstein/ Snyder group will own the Redskins, and Cooke Jr., Casserly, and Turner will be out on the street. The only question is whether the sale will be approved the easy wayby 24 members of this Billionaire Bullies Clubor the Al Davis wayby 12 jurors.
But until the sale is finalized, there is no charitable trust to speak of. And every day the NFL, an organization that spends millions of dollars each year trumpeting its connection to the United Way, delays the transfer of the team, there will be less scholarship money to go around. A Washington Post article reported that $73,000 is lost per day, just on interest that the proceeds from the sale would get sitting in a bank account. (The owners decided on Wednesday to “grant” the Milstein/Snyder group a 30-day extension, adding yet another delay.)
So instead of fighting the inevitable, the outgoing Skins managers should realize that they are just the kind of people who could take advantage of Jack Kent Cooke’s last good deed. These are folks, after all, who will have some free time, and by pulling a few strings, they should be able to get a free ride through grad school.
Look what just one day’s interest could do: Casserly could try business school at Northwestern, which, according to the U.S. News guide, has the best general managership graduate program in the country. For $24,351 per year, he might learn that incompetence doesn’t generally endear you to co-workers. (An early first-round pick, and more, for Randall Cunningham’s backup?) Turner, meanwhile, could ask the trust for the $23,100 it would cost for a year at MIT, which the guide ranks as the best aerospace engineering graduate curriculum in the land. There, he might realize he’s not the rocket scientist all the D.C. reporters always told him he was. And Cooke Jr.? Well, maybe his fellow board members would pony up $24,000 to get him into Stanford’s top-ranked graduate psychology program, where somebody could enlighten him about what might drive a guy who’s recently been given $130 million, a car, and a watch to act as if he had been dealt a bad hand.Dave McKenna