Of course, those same team owners are almost always potentates in their own right. Their complaints are a form of power chasing its own tail—owners empowering commissioners who discipline owners who compensate commissioners who hand trophies to owners following the Super Bowl.
Anyone who thinks sports are ruled by athletes need only think of American sports' most enduring tradition: Immediately after a championship, as the champagne sprays and the confetti falls, the trophy is passed not to the team captain but most often to the team owner, handed to him by his highest-ranking employee, the league commissioner. It is the Great Buzzkill, that ceremonial first interview of the man in the suit with the biggest bank account in the room.
Rather than a Power List, it would be more accurate (if less fun) to design a Power Flow Chart, showing how influence, like rain, falls from on high, gets driven sideways, penetrates the ground, returns to its source and affects everything it touches, for good and bad. The people on this list are people, but they're also weather. One move from any of them can cause a profound change in their environment, dictating what we watch, what it costs and whether it's any good.
The famous saying "Power corrupts" is almost universally accepted as true, despite not actually having been said that way. What Lord Acton did say—wrote, actually, in an 1887 letter—was "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." He added, a tad cynically, "Great men are almost always bad men."
No such inference is to be drawn from this list, though many other clichés about power are true in their own way. There really is power in perception, for instance. The great and powerful Oz wasn't great, but he was powerful so long as his constituents thought so. It certainly didn't hurt Stan Kroenke—owner of the St. Louis Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Arsenal of the English Premier League—that his nickname for years was Silent Stan (before he recently sat for a long profile in SI).
Would Vic Power, who played in five All-Star Games in 12 big league seasons, have been nearly as formidable had he gone by his birth name, Victor Pellot?
Maybe. Maybe not. What's certain is that ranking powerful people is inherently self-defeating. For starters, true potentates know who they are without being told, and they have no need to announce it. "Being powerful is like being a lady," said Margaret Thatcher. "If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." (On the other hand, exceedingly few people buy major league sports teams—or aspire to play for them—as a way to lower their profile.)
There is another way power lists can self-immolate. Indeed, they're designed to do so. Because power, like everything else in life—life included—is ephemeral. As sure as professional golfers hit "power fades" ... power fades. Always and inevitably, power fades. Stern, Bud Selig and Jacques Rogge all plan to step down by the end of next year and cede their power to others. Headline writers love the phrase POWER GRAB, but you can't really grab it, can you? Power is a greased watermelon, a wisp of smoke, difficult to grasp, harder to hold, impossible to control while getting both feet down in bounds. Take, for example, No. 3 on our list, Philip Anschutz. If (when, really) he sells AEG—poof, there goes the power.
The following pages are devoted to those people who occupy the thrones. As you read about them—on a humbler throne of your own, perhaps—bear in mind that the powers that be are themselves subjected to power. Everyone is. Indeed, the phrase "powers that be" comes from the Bible, distinguishing those powers from a "higher power" still, suggesting a cosmic pecking order literally from Day One.
Whatever your religious or philosophical beliefs, the powers that be are by definition in a state of transience, for that is what being is: To be ... then not to be. And so SI's ranking will look different next year, or even next month. (It was only in November, after all, that SI suggested that if money is power, then Kroenke is the most powerful man in sports; since then, Arsenal, which he owns, has tanked, and we've had one Super Bowl to remind us of the full power of the NFL.) For power is not just the great aphrodisiac—and we'll have to take Henry Kissinger's word on that—it is also a strong hallucinogenic, never quite what it appears to be.