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Old 10-02-2006, 05:20 AM   #1
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The Saints and the Superdome

I haven't been on this board in a while, but I thought that folks here might appreciate this piece, even with its Bono-bashing.

Big Easy Blues: The Saints and the Superdome

By Dave Zirin

October 16, 2006, The Nation

New Orleans is a city that suffers in silence. These days, it
feels like a city being strangled in slow motion, a city whose
current condition makes a lie of every political platitude
preached over the past year. Yet ESPN spent four hours Monday
trying to make us believe that the Crescent City--through the
magic of sports and the return of the New Orleans Saints--is
on the verge of resurrection.

The symbol of deliverance, we were told repeatedly during the
broadcast, was the $185 million renovation of the Louisiana
Superdome, $94 million of which came from FEMA. Never mind
that the Dome's adjoining mall and hotel are still shuttered
or that the city hasn't seen that kind of money spent on low-
income housing destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The road back
for the Big Easy begins in the Dome. As one ESPN talking head
solemnly told us, "The most daunting task is to scrub away
memories of the Superdome as a cesspool of human misery." That
recalled the time when the football stadium became the
homeless shelter from hell for 30,000 of New Orleans's poorest
residents, huddled together in conditions Jesse Jackson
likened to "the hull of a slave ship."

Now we are asked to believe the memories are being "scrubbed
away." But the reality of refugee apartheid is hardly a
memory. The game was held hostage to the awkward fact that the
folks starring in ESPN's video montages of last year's
"cesspool" were almost entirely black and the football fans in
the stands were overwhelmingly white.

But recognizing this would contradict the infomercial for the
new Big Easy that was designed to appeal to the typical
family, which finds gumbo too spicy and thinks of soul as
something consumed with tartar sauce. This message found its
way into every aspect of ESPN's coverage. In the city that
gave us the Marsalis family and the Neville brothers, the
pregame entertainment was an incoherent duet featuring those
icons of corporate rock, Green Day and U2, complete with the
Irish-born Ego formally known as Bono shouting, "I am an
American!" The two artists who best represent New Orleans's
authentic musical tradition, Irma Thomas and Alvin Toussaint,
were left to perform the national anthem, a melody so
ponderous it could exorcise the soul from Aretha Franklin.

This selling of McOrleans continued when one announcer called
the area outside the tourist zone "a graveyard of a community
that no longer exists." But even in the most devastated parts
of the city, that graveyard stubbornly throbs with life. As
Josh Peter, writing from the Lower Ninth Ward for Yahoo Sports
reported, "A group of 30 people gathered to watch the game
next to a FEMA trailer. There were residents struggling to
rebuild their homes and volunteers there to help them sharing
red beans and rice. It was a congregation cheering as if it
were inside the Superdome instead of inside a garage... 'We're
still here,' Deborah Massey snapped at the TV announcer. 'They
can't get rid of us.'"

The message behind the return of the Saints was tied together
by the Godfather of No-Soul himself, former President George
H.W. Bush, who declared that "the pessimists who said New
Orleans wouldn't come back are wrong, and the optimists who
dug in are doing great!"

Bush the Elder was then asked what he believed to be the great
enduring lesson of the Katrina catastrophe. Anyone who hoped
to hear "Don't hire a feckless fraternity buddy to run FEMA"
was left disappointed. Instead we got: "The great lesson is
the American spirit! And never give up on it! It's back and
it's coming back more!"

That spirit was certainly on display when Bush walked out to
the fifty-yard line for the coin flip. As Daily Kos noted,
when Bush senior came out to flip the coin, ESPN apparently
shut off the sound of a booing crowd for a few seconds and
played audio of fake cheers. After about ten seconds, the boos
were audible and angry.

There was reason for anger Monday night. There was also reason
to cheer. The mood in the stadium was electric, and emotional,
cathartic and wistful. I could feel Saints fans carrying their
team to a 23-3 victory over the favored opponents, the Atlanta
Falcons. I laughed and cheered upon seeing a big banner that
read "Joe Horn for President"--both a caustic protest and a
show of respect for the Saints wide receiver, who proudly says
he wants to be "a voice for those who aren't heard." I felt a
lump in my throat upon seeing the "Save Our Saints" sign, a
reminder that for all the money spent on the Dome, Saints
owner Tom Benson still threatens to move the team to more
affluent shores. I shared the crowd's almost giddy love of
quicksilver rookie Reggie Bush. And yes, it was nice to
actually see a Bush raise up the spirit of New Orleans instead
of crushing it.

It's easy to understand why ESPN announcer and Gulf Coast
native Robin Roberts said, "Tonight is about baby steps
forward. People are so hungry for a little slice of their
normal life." It's also easy to understand why a city that
depends so crucially on the tourist dollar would crave
positive coverage. But the big answer for the Big Easy does
not lie in becoming a gumbo-flavored Disneyland where service-
economy dollars are directed to minimum-wage jobs. The city
needs a massive federal works project that puts the people of
New Orleans to work rebuilding their own city.

New Orleans is crying out for grand acts of daring and
leadership. Nothing grand is coming from Washington, DC, and
it is cruel to promote the belief that the drowned city will
experience rebirth in a football stadium. The answer begins
not with "scrubbing away memories of the Superdome" but in
amplifying those memories so they fuel a movement to bring
back not only the city but every last resident who wants to
return. It ain't the Saints who need to go marching in. It's
the rest of us.

[Dave Zirin is the author of "'What's My Name Fool?': Sports
and Resistance in the United States" (Haymarket Books) You can
receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing Contact him at]
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