Some Jacksonville Jaguars Fans Object To New Owner

In Jacksonville, Fla., there's been a bit of angst this week. The football coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars was fired, and the team's longtime owner announced he's selling the franchise to an Illinois businessman. Some people believe the buyer, Shad Khan, plans to move to the team. Others have voiced concerns because Khan is a native of Pakistan — even though he has lived in the U.S. for decades.

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The NFL season so far has brought plenty of big plays and last-minute upsets. But much of the action this week happened off the field. In Jacksonville, Florida, the Jaguars fired their head coach but they didn't stop there. They're also trying to change owners.

As Karen Feagins of member station WJCT reports, the new buyer is an Illinois businessman from Pakistan.

KAREN FEAGINS, BYLINE: Shahid Khan came to the United States when he was 16. He studied engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, and took a job at an auto parts company called Flex-N-Gate. He later purchased the company and expanded it. It now has annual revenues of more than two and a half billion dollars.

WAYNE WEAVER: This gentleman is absolutely the American story.

FEAGINS: That's current Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, a longtime local philanthropist. As he's gotten older, he's searched for a buyer committed to keeping the team in Jacksonville. The Jaguars struggled to win games and fill the stadium, fueling speculation the team will move to Los Angeles or some other big market.

Weaver says he trusts Khan's word that he'll say.

WEAVER: And I found an owner that has that commitment, has that passion.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN ANNOUCEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "The Pete Prisco Show" 930, The Fox. Jacksonville's sports leader.

FEAGINS: Talk radios phone lines lit up after the announcement. Despite Shahid Khan's quintessentially American story, some Jaguars' fans had a negative reaction to the new owner's ethnicity. Pete Prisco hosts the sports radio talk show in Jacksonville.

PETE PRISCO: I was hopeful that it wouldn't be ugly and naturally there are idiots out there. And it got a little ugly. I had a call the other day from a guy who said he would not buy a ticket to the franchise unless it was owned by an American.

FEAGINS: Jokes and slurs about Khan's Pakistani roots circulated online and were peppered throughout the comments on the local news websites. Prisco worries those reactions will paint a negative picture of the city, despite the fact that Khan is now a U.S. citizen.

PRISCO: And the sick thing is, is there's no more racism in this city than there is in any other city. It goes on everywhere. But because we are in the South, automatically people think, oh, it's a racist city. And there's some of that here but there's some of that in New York, there's some of that in Philadelphia, there's some of that everywhere.

FEAGINS: And overall, the fan base in Jacksonville all appears to support the new owner. The day of the announcement, fans began creating T-shirts with the slogan: Yes, We Khan. Another design showed the Jaguars' logo with a thick, dark mustache to reflect Khan's trademark facial hair.

The optimism was apparent at Mudville Grill, a sports bar across the St. Johns River from the stadium. Friends Dick Maloney and Billy Edenfield(ph) have been Jaguars season ticket holders since the team began playing in 1995. Maloney says he is excited about the team's new direction, especially with the firing of longtime coach Jack Del Rio.

DICK MALONEY: Happy to hear that Del Rio is gone, delighted to know that we have a new owner that might have some money, and happy to see what's going on. We like change.

FEAGINS: As a betting man, Billy Edenfield says he's not sure he'd put money on the Jaguars staying for the long-term if they can't sell more tickets.

BILLY EDENFIELD: The man is a businessman. He's made an investment. He's looking for the future. If it pays off for him, we're okay. If it doesn't, then he's got to make that decision.

FEAGINS: Provisions of the Jaguars stadium lease would make it difficult for the team to leave town, but not impossible. The sale has to be approved by the league owners later this month and would become official January 4th.

For NPR News, I'm Karen Feagins in Jacksonville.

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