How Much Schadenfreude for Curt Schilling?
The Curt Schilling video game debacle has produced many burning questions: Will the state of Rhode Island get paid back the $75 million in loans it guaranteed to Schilling’s 38 Studios? Will the video game company be able to stay in business? Why would Schilling hand over a check for $1.1 million to Rhode Island officials only to tell them that it would bounce if the state tried to cash it? And is it some sort of cruel inside joke that 38 Studios is still advertising 18 job openings on its website, even after it failed to make payroll this week? (Maybe they ought to try out what we do in the journalism industry and list 18 unpaid internships.)
But here’s the question that’s really been bugging me these last few days: What is the appropriate amount of schadenfreude to take in Schilling’s very public embarrassment? On the one hand, this is really the best thing ever. Ever since he came to town, Schilling has been brash and arrogant. That played fine in his ankle-bleeding days, but as he’s moved into retirement, the act’s just gotten old. Especially as he’s trolled around the state, campaigning for Republican political candidates and espousing the virtues of small government (which he is apparently not quite so committed to as we thought). The Globe’s Brian McGrory did a marvelous job snatching that low hanging fruit this morning, blistering the Big Schill for decrying government subsidies and bailouts for everyone except for him. It’s beyond delightful that Schilling is literally begging the state of Rhode Island to keep him in business right now.
On the other hand, this is a brutal blow to Rhode Island. Yes, it was moronic for the state to give Schilling, a guy who not only had no executive experience but likely had never even worked in an office before, $75 million guaranteed to move his company from Massachusetts to little Rhodey. But some jock-sniffing government officials’ idiocy doesn’t help the people of Central Falls, Rhode Island, which filed for bankruptcy last year. Nor does it help folks in 38 Studios hometown of Providence, which itself is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. And it really doesn’t help the 270 people employed at 38 Studios who could soon find themselves out of work. It’s hard to miss how on the Providence Journal’s homepage today, directly following the news on 38 Studios, is this headline: “Rhode Island unemployment rate rises to 11.2 percent.” That’s more than three percentage points higher than the U.S. average and nearly five percentage points higher than the figure here in Massachusetts. By the way, Rhode Island’s staring a $120 million deficit for the fiscal year 2013 in the face, and 38 Studios tanking does not help.
So thus is the dilemma: as much as I’d love to take complete, unadulterated joy in Schilling being so brutally humbled, the issue is complicated by just how many people are getting screwed over by his and the state of Rhode Island’s bungling. What outcome, then, should we be rooting for? Here’s the one I propose: Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee (who opposed the loan to 38 Studios while he was running for his job) somehow rides in and saves the day, preserving the state’s investment and all those people’s jobs. And then Schilling must acknowledge publicly that sometimes, just maybe, government intervention isn’t the worst thing in the world.