Two Years After Katrina

You know how print journalism is often compared to a dinosaur taking it’s last gasp? Don’t believe the hype.

I subscribe to Sports Illustrated partially out of habit and because every couple of weeks they drop an article that leaves me speechless. Tonight I was kicking around my place killing time before Canada battles Puerto Rico and I was amazed by an article that Alexander Wolff wrote called “Two Years After Katrina.” The article is phenomenal and makes it worth buying this week’s Sports Illustrated to read this article alone.

During the past two years a lot has been said and written about Katrina and it’s effects on New Orleans and just when I feel I’ve become desensitized to what transpired something captures my attention. This article is yet another reminder of the tragedy that happened and that residents are still attempting to deal with.

Midway through the article Wolff made me wince when he wrote:

As the city filled with water, the Dome filled with more and more people, many delivered by helicopters straight from rooftops. The generator couldn’t supply air conditioning or water pressure, only a post-apocalyptic half-light. Heat, squalor and unchecked rumors tugged at the fraying social fabric. Vandals and looters had their way with corporate suites and vending machines. A man was nearly beaten to death on word that he had tried to molest a girl. The corpses of four people who expired from the heat would up in a catering freezer, while a man hurled himself off the upper deck. As several inches of sewer water covered the field, and human waste backed up, people – ultimately more than 30,000 – would eat an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), then defecate in the bag it had come in.

The sports fan in me got thinking when he stated:

That the Saints are now so prosperous beyond the field seems to beg for an even more fantastical explanation. Despite New Orleans size (the smallest market with two major pro teams), median household income ($27,355 a year before Katrina) and dearth of Fortune 500 businesses (the city has one, Entergy), the team has sold out all 137 suites and 68,000 season seats for this fall while sitting on a waiting list of more than 30,000. But then the region today is pulsating with contractors, mostly male, ready to step out and spend when not working overtime. “Discretionary stuff usually suffers during tough times, but there are fewer ways to spend your money,” Thornton says. “This community will be rebuilding for a long time, and we’re just now seeing some of the federal money trickle down. The big question is when and how that will translate into a broader corporate base.”

It’s a question most critical to the NBA Hornets, who in October begin their first full season back in the New Orleans Arena after spending the last two seasons in Oklahoma City. Unlike the Saints, the Hornets play a game that holds no special place in the cultural heart of the Deep South. They don’t enjoy revenue sharing within the NBA to the same extent the Saints do within the NFL, nor do they play all their games on weekends, when Saints fans routinely drive to the Dome from three neighboring states. Local sponsorship is more critical to NBA teams than to their NFL counterparts, and many of the city’s top businesses left after the storm.

Like the Saints, the Hornets are trying to attract corporate support in part by folding community service projects into sponsorship packages. (This summer in their Hoops Tour, sponsored by Touro Hospital, Hornets players held free clinics for children aged seven to 14 in Louisiana and Mississippi.) Meanwhile Brees’s own Brees Dream Foundation has launched a $2.5 million campaign to raise funds for eight projects to benefit New Orleans youth. “What’s keeping people from coming back is wondering if this is a safe place to raise children,” the Saints quarterback says. “Whether it be schools or athletic programs or infrastructure, our biggest emphasis right now is on providing those things.”

And then reality kicked in when he wrote near the end of his article about the risk New Orleans is at of being swept away again:

New Orleans isn’t merely a city still in peril. It’s a place at even greater risk than before the storm. A Category 3 hurricane whose eye struck well to the east, Katrina wasn’t the Big One, notwithstanding the epic damage and suffering it caused because of breaches of the levees (“that frail breastwork of earth,” as Mark Twain put it, “between the people and destruction”). Nonetheless, by wiping out more than 100 square miles of Louisiana coastal wetlands and the protection they afford, Katrina ensured that the next middling-strength hurricane to deal New Orleans even a glancing blow will bring a storm surge roughly three feet higher — and the defenses that failed so miserably two years ago haven’t been restored even to pre-Katrina strength. (This assessment doesn’t account for global climate change. Forget New Orleans; at their current pace, rising sea levels will make Baton Rouge a coastal city by the end of this century.)

These facts shouldn’t be taken as an argument not to rebuild. On the contrary: There’s a preservationist case to be made, in which sports in New Orleans muscle their way alongside cuisine and music — all worth saving because they make life worth living, especially when people the world over want to sample that very culture.

Regardless of whether you are a sports fan or not this is a must read as it’s full of a wide range of topics that will have you thinking all weekend. Wolff does a great job of examining how sports are needed for high school kids so that they graduate, the value of sports on the economy and ways citizens are helping out their community. It’s the kind of article you can’t help but debate with your buddies and talk about with co-workers at the water cooler about.

Make sure you take some time before you head away to your cottage for the long weekend to purchase this week’s Sports Illustrated.

It’s an article you won’t easily forget.

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