Sports Desk: Super Bowl Edition
Hard to imagine a more joy filled Super Bowl than the one we got to witness Sunday night. Even with the Focus on Family ad being shown and The Who taking up space that could have been filled by lots of bands who would have better represented the spirit of Miami and the two teams playing in the game, the fact remains that we saw pretty much everything that is great about sports and the people who play them. We saw Colts guard Kyle DeVan who went from being a substitute teacher to playing in the biggest game of the season. Jeff Saturday, the Colts Center, was an electrician during a year away from the NFL. Drew Brees, the QB for The Saints, has been called too little to play in the NFL. All in all it was a day of second chances and good lessons about hard work and perseverance.
Two days later it still feels awfully good to think about that game. And yet, like the jambalaya I made on Sunday, time makes everything deeper and a bit more complicated. Today the words “New Orleans” are still on the lips and the sports pages of America. But what about next week? What about our responsibility to that city and the people who live in it? One reason Drew Brees is a hero in New Orleans is that he went there after the storm and made a commitment to lead that team to victory as a means of lifting the city up and helping it get back on its feet. I wonder what that means after the game. I’ve been doing a good deal of research on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for another project of mine. I decided I’d take the lead of that Google ad everyone was talking about after the Super Bowl:
I typed in the words “MLK New Orleans.” The results weren’t nearly as romantic but they were perhaps a better indicator of where that city stands than any of the pre-game coverage. When you type those words (let your soundtrack be the VIP Ladies All Stars second line band) the first link you’ll see is “MLK Charter School.” First you’ll see the address and then you’ll see a link to their homepage:
The photos of smiling students and an admiring President only tell part of the story. One of the ways New Orleans has begun to “come back” is to hand its schools over to the corporate charter system. Dr. King Charter School is a part of a network sponsored by Capital One, the same company that makes a good deal of its money providing credit cards to people with bad credit. The day after the Super Bowl Capital One, citing the current economic climate, announced interest rates on most cards’ outstanding balances will jump from 8.01 percent to 15.31.
People have all kinds of different opinions on the corporate charter system. President Obama is a big fan and it is true that in parts of New Orleans there seem to have been improvements to the abysmal state of education. If one goes by test scores (a tricky business) then things are marginally looking up. Some schools are seeing better attendance trends. The challenge with those schools is the same challenge a team faces. Will folks stick around after the victory? Certainly the people of New Orleans will. But there’s a real question if the companies who run these schools are really in it for the long haul. What happens if Capital One comes to the same crossroads as so many of our other financial institutions? What programs will be cut first? More importantly, will we still be watching? The Saints are a story we love because everyone roots for the underdog. What about the fact that charter schools in New Orleans are reportedly turning away special needs children? A common term that is used is “dumping.” Not surprisingly this is the same term used to describe hospitals’ practice of putting indigent people back on the street instead of providing them proper care. Big hospitals, big schools, big prisons, big business. As we cheer the return of the Saints and The Big Easy it is important to think about the oversight that allowed so many people’s lives to end up underwater. Today the homeless population in New Orleans numbers 12,000 and a third of city residences remain empty for one reason or another. There is so much to celebrate but we’re really just at the start of the game.
As I write this I’m listening to the rainfall in Los Angeles. I’m also swaying back and forth to a recording my friend, the writer Nelson Eubanks, made me of the The V.I.P. Lady All Stars second line band from a few weeks before Katrina. He was living in New Orleans and recording all the second line bands. Those weeks before the storm he wrote to me saying things were awfully tense between the bands and the police. On the recordings he’d send me you can hear the cops coming through and people arguing or mostly just saying, “Let em pass. Let em through.” At one point you hear an old man’s voice. He starts saying, “A storm is coming. A storm is coming.” That’s not meant to be romantic or theatrical. It’s meant to say there was trouble in that city and everybody but the majority of America knew that to be so. We almost lost the second lines in the flood. And the Superdome was hailed in some Super Bowl coverage as the “home” for people displaced by the storm.
It wasn't a home. It was a horror. It was also the logical result of what comes from the neglect and abuse of the poorest and least protected among us. I keep playing back Tracy Porter’s winning touchdown.
It just feels so good. To know you can come out from under and run all the way home. As usual, and fittingly in tribute to the complicated miracle that is New Orleans, let’s end with a song. Here are the V.I.P. Ladies, back in action. It’s gonna make you dance and grin and hope wherever you are: