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Originally published June 25, 2012 at 4:43 PM | Page modified June 26, 2012 at 10:31 AM

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Community, young lives: the motivation behind Chris Hansen's arena quest

Chris Hansen explains the motivation behind his quest to bring NBA and NHL franchises to Seattle.

Special to The Times

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AS many of you may be aware, I am leading an effort to build a new, multipurpose sports arena in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood. While much of the discussion about our arena proposal, which is currently being evaluated by the Seattle and King County councils, has rightly centered on issues like financial protections and traffic, I believe the positive impact it will have on our community has been largely overlooked.

I grew up in the Rainier Valley and I saw firsthand the impact that professional athletes could have on the community. They hosted events at nearby Boys & Girls Clubs, encouraged us to stay in school and study, and used their status as a platform to speak out against the drugs and gang violence that were ravishing my neighborhood.

The impact these athletes had on me and other at-risk kids should not be underestimated.

One only needs to look at the work the Seahawks and their coach Pete Carroll are doing in our community to fight gang violence, or the Sounders' work with the King County Boys & Girls Clubs as recent evidence. Perhaps the best expression of this reality comes from Tavio Hobson, founder of Rainier Valley's A Plus Youth Program:

"The thought of having the Sonics back in Seattle reminds me of an experience I recently had with one of our youth. A youngster age 11, still bright-eyed, eager and determined to tackle all challenges life presented, said, 'Martell (Webster) told me that even if I don't get a scholarship to play basketball I can go to college for free if I keep my grades high.' These are the powerful messages we promote each day in our program. I cannot emphasize enough the lives a Sonics' franchise could help change."

Beyond simply motivating youth with their words, professional athletes inspire kids to participate in sports. While the names will vary by generation, on the playground we have all been Freddie Brown, Ken Griffey Jr. or Steve Largent. The simple fact is kids emulate people they admire, and when they admire athletes they are more apt to participate in sports.

Why is this so important? Simple. Sports teach critical values like teamwork, work ethic and personal responsibility — values that are too often lacking in the lives of at-risk kids.

Through professional sports, we also have the opportunity to watch some of the most gifted humans in the world perform their craft. While I know art will always be in the eye of the beholder, to those who feel that professional sports do not add the same cultural value as other performing arts, I would simply ask:

• Are the countless hours Ray Allen spent perfecting his jump shot somehow less admirable than those Yo-Yo Ma spent practicing the cello?

• Were Shawn Kemp's highflying acrobatics any less graceful than an Alessandra Ferri pirouette?

• Was Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard game-clinching run in an NFL playoff game any less moving or inspiring than a Pavarotti aria?

Professional sports touch the soul and bind communities in unique and powerful ways. They make us hug strangers, cheer in unison, and high-five fellow fans. They provide parents an opportunity to bond with their children, friends an excuse to get together for a beer and the common ground for people decades apart in age to strike up a conversation that may otherwise never occur.

Professional sports also cut across economic and social divides in an unmatched fashion. The thrill of victory is not distributed by economic status, and the despair of defeat falls as hard on a lawyer as it does on a janitor.

For the big game, the community stands together — rich and poor, old and young, people of all faith and color. For those precious few hours we are just fans, bonded together by a single common interest that temporarily overshadows everything else.

This is my motivation.

Chris Hansen is an investment-fund manager based in San Francisco. He is leading an investment team to bring an NBA and NHL franchise to Seattle.

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