Even If the Saints Win the Super Bowl

… the aftermath of Katrina lingers.

A Saints Victory Won’t Help New Orleans’ Future
by Randy Shaw‚ Jan. 16‚ 2007

Here is this week’s national feel-good story: the New Orleans Saints have rebounded from a 3-13 season in 2005 and are now only one victory away from reaching the Super Bowl. The Saints are said to embody the “never say die” spirit of the city’s residents, and a victory over the Chicago Bears next Sunday will help revive spirits among the long-suffering victims of Hurricane Katrina. If the Saints can come back from the devastation of 2005, so can New Orleans. This story line will be repeated time and again in the coming week, but the truth is that the fortunes of the Saints football team are totally irrelevant to the city’s rebirth. And while the corporate hucksters who run the NFL try to lure non-football fans to identify with the Saints’ cause, the greater truth is that, as Bob Herbert put it in the January 15 New York Times, the Saints may be rising but New Orleans is “Descending to New Depths.”

There is nothing that warms the hearts of the sports industry and television networks more than when a professional team’s fortunes can be shrouded in a higher purpose. In some cases—as when Doug Williams became the first African-American quarterback to lead his team to winning a Super Bowl—the outcome of a game does have a broader social impact. But most of the time this framing is only about marketing, and even Williams only ushered in more black quarterbacks, not a society more supportive of racial justice.

In 2005, the New Orleans Saints football team lost their home field when the hurricane damaged the Superdome. The team’s plight was said to echo that of hundreds of thousands of its residents, who also were displaced by President Bush’s incompetent handling of the storm.

Today, the Saints have made one of the most remarkable turnarounds in football history, and only must beat the Chicago Bears next Sunday to reach the Super Bowl for the first time. Everyone outside Chicago will be rooting for the plucky Saints, whose victory is said to provide a shot of inspiration for those still struggling to rebuild the community.

But while a Saints victory would be exciting for a long inept NFL team, it is irrelevant to the real life situation in New Orleans. In fact, I have yet to hear a single sports announcer say anything about President Bush’s responsibility for the mess in New Orleans, as they instead focus all attention on Hurricane Katrina as the sole cause.

In other words, the Saints crusade has given the media another excuse to whitewash President Bush’s unprecedented failure to prevent the destruction of a major American city. So long as we link the team’s success to progress in the city, we can forget about federal government’s ongoing malfeasance.

In the January 15 New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert again tried to remind America of the ongoing disaster in the Saints hometown. After touring New Orleans and talking to many residents, Herbert concluded that the city “is a mess.” As he put it, “what is actually happening is worse than anyone had imagined.”

Read it here.

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