Just over two years ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and, as we know, its effects devastated New Orleans (and coastal Mississippi, too, although nobody every pays any attention to that). Among the other havoc that it wrought, it nearly destroyed the Louisiana Superdome, where the New Orleans Saints played football. The storm itself damaged the stadium severely, and the combination of that and the damage that it incurred from being an emergency shelter after Katrina made some people believe that it would have to be torn down. The Saints played all of their "home' games in the 2005 season in San Antonio, Baton Rouge, and New Jersey; and, predictably, they were abysmally bad, finishing the season 3-13. Their owner, Tom Benson, gave serious consideration to moving them from New Orleans permanently, but the NFL strong-armed him into staying. He got a new coach, signed a new quarterback (Drew Brees, at left), and drafted a flashy running back (Reggie Bush), and were a much-improved team in 2006. They finished 10-6, winning their division and going to the NFC championship, playing at home in a quickly-rehabilitated Louisiana Superdome. As it became obvious that the Saints had turned things around in 2006, we were treated to a non-stop stream of stories about how the Saints were helping New Orleans to "heal" from Katrina and how important they had been to the city's rebirth. Well, I don't much care for treacley human interest stories being mixed into my sports coverage; and I don't think that the thrust of these stories was very accurate. Maybe things would have been worse if the Saints had stunk up the joint, I don't know. But I do know that New Orleans is still a mess: more than 200,000 of the pre-hurricane residents of New Orleans have not come back and probably never will. More than half of the hospitals that operated before Katrina hit are still closed. The murder rate, which was astronomically high before the hurricane, has risen by some 40% since. Other sorts of crime are also out of control. Over $100 billion has been spent on rehabilitating New Orleans, and it's still a nut case.
Why do I bring this up now? Because sports journalism is at it again. Today was the first Saturday of the 2007 college football season, and the featured game on ESPN today was East Carolina at Virginia Tech. Predictably, we were treated to the treacley human-interest stories about how the Virginia Tech football team was helping the campus to heal from the mass shooting there in April and how the players willingly accepted their new responsibilities. I don't doubt that the unifying effect of college sports can have a salutary impact on a university, but I really don't think that the Virginia Tech football team makes it appreciably easier for the students traumatized by the attack to return to campus or to go back to class. Why can't we celebrate sports for the positive things that they actually do rather than try to make them into something that they're not?
Incidentally, the Hokies looked unimpressive in winning the game 17-7. They're going to have to play better if they expect to be contenders for a national championship.