Sports and Community Resiliency
This is my first major blog entry. I was hoping to have worked a little more on this last week but had two job interviews in the Boston area and spoke at a panel at Boston Architectural College during their winter Intensive session. This week’s topic takes a look at Resiliency and Sports and how success in sports can correspond to community resiliency. In my thesis paper, I discussed the topic a little bit as an intangible to consider for overall community resiliency following a disaster.
In the past few years, Resiliency has become a term often linked to sports teams categorizing teams that are able to “bounce back” in the face of adversity. This past football season I have heard it applied to the New England Patriots over and over again. In a community sense, many places have seen the emergence of their local teams as the heroic figure following disaster or tragedy. Whether they simply provide a distraction or outlet during a difficult time or demonstrate a sense of community resilience, for many, there is the belief that their hometown heroes winning it all represents a deeper meaning and get relief from a heroic figure that they could rally around. There are several examples from recent years of teams which have helped inspire their community to overcome, or simply offered reprieve from a trying situation. Can sports go beyond being a distraction to offer community resilience through economic revival? Do you think the overall feeling of a community that has been through a traumatic situation impacts the performance of the team and gives them something to play for?
The New York Yankees got to game 7 of the World Series following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. The game was uncharacteristically blown by future hall of famer Mariano Rivera and ultimately they lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Many New Yorkers found solace in the team in the wake of the attacks. The team went out into the community to offer support and appreciation to first responders and the families of victims. When baseball resumed a week later, the Yankees found themselves greeted with a standing ovation in every city they visited. While the loss in the World Series felt like a let down to the team, thinking they had disappointed the city, it offered momentary relief from the grim reality that had unfolded in Manhattan. The conclusion of the World Series in no way reflected the city and the country’s ability to overcome.
The New Orleans Saints got the furthest they had ever been in the playoffs during the 2006 season following a dramatic overhaul of the team and reconstruction of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina the year before. I had moved to Baton Rouge to attend LSU in the summer of 2006 and couldn’t help but fall in love with the Saints. Since then I have cheered for them as I would my own “hometown” team (and yes sometimes harder). Drew Brees joined the team in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina and saw opportunity not only to rebuild a franchise but to help rebuild a community. The team has been more connected with the city than ever before and Brees could wind up being the most celebrated Saints player ever. Not only did the city rally around their beloved sports franchise, but the team in return has gone out into the community to help rebuild and volunteer within the city. The Saints would go on to win the Superbowl for the first time ever in the 2009 season and celebrate the first ever, “Lombardi Gras.”
The Japan Women’s soccer team won the World Cup in 2011 following the catastrophic earthquake the country faced earlier that year. The teams rallying cry had been, “ganbare,” loosely translating to preserve, fight on, and hang in there. Throughout the World Cup, survivors in Japan huddled around TVs to watch matches of the team that had been declared by many of incapable of winning the World Cup. Former U.S. Women’s team coach Tony DiCicco in a Washington Times article in July of 2011 stated, “They’re not just playing a soccer game. They’re playing to heal a wounded country.”
Most recently, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series six months after the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, which killed three people and wounded almost 300 others. Throughout the 2013 season, the team recognized and celebrated victims and survivors of the bombings while honoring the many first responders, the police force and good Samaritans from the event, and honored the city by keeping a “617 Boston Strong” jersey with the team in the dugout. Like the Yankees, other teams paid tribute to the team and to the city of Boston by adapting traditions of Fenway Park in the games immediately following the bombings. The team made 470 community appearances during the season, many to survivors, all of which were organized by players themselves, asking to keep the media out of it. In the aftermath of their World Series victory, many players deferred to what it meant to the city of Boston and how it demonstrated the city’s resiliency rather than discuss their own achievements. What started as a simple twitter hashtag, #BostonStrong, became a rallying cry for an entire community which resonated throughout the season.
How do you consider this intangible when trying to develop and community’s resiliency? Can sports alone “fix” a problem or does it merely just bring awareness to a wounded community? The city of Detroit is in desperate need of economic revival. In July of 2013 the city filed for bankruptcy. The urban decline witnessed has resulted in thousands of abandoned homes and property. The tax base is just a portion of what it was several decades ago and everyone has heard about the $500 homes for sale in Detroit, though many of those structures are not safe to inhabit. Many choose instead to purchase in adjacent suburbs. Chrysler for several years has marketed their cars with the “Imported from Detroit” marketing campaign, addressing the decline of the automobile industry in the region. Part of the failure of Detroit was that it relied solely on the automobile industry and lacked a diversity of products.
In the 1930’s Detriot was known as the “City of Champions.” The Detroit Lions, Tigers, (and bears, oh my! Just kidding) and Red Wings won the NFL Championship, the World Series, and the Stanley Cup respectively between 1935-1936 along with other major sports achievements in that decade. Those three teams all still compete within the Detroit City Limits All four of its major teams have been viable championship contenders in the past decade with the Red Wings even winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. Despite the dire conditions, none of the organizations have chosen to abandon ship. While a World Series championship won’t solve any of the economic needs of the city, it would certainly increase ticket sales, merchandise, help business local to the stadium, since Comerica Park is located within the city limit and maybe draw in a few out-of-towners to catch a game or two. Small pockets of economic revival can lead to more jobs, more people moving to the city and only continue to help the economic development. Reinvigorating the local franchises certainly can’t hinder or make recovery efforts any worse. Sports arenas often double for basketball and hockey, and can be utilized for forms of entertainment. Fenway Park in recent years has adapted a summer concert series and hosts “Frozen Fenway” each winter, a tournament for local college hockey teams and the “Garden, home to the Celtics and Bruins, is host to many concerts and events. With an increase in tax payer funded stadiums anyway, why not invest that into the economic development in the surrounding community. There are definitely possibilities.
Along with professional sports, Detroit has bid more times than any other city to host the Olympics with 7 bids between 1944 and 1972. It’s hard to say how the upcoming Winter Olympics will impact Sochi, a very remote area of Russia, as host cities are often left with the maintenance of unused large arenas. There are benefits to hosting such as improved infrastructure and an increase in international trade, but according to Robert Barney, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, no games in history have made money after considering the funding used by governments and taxpayers to subsidize them. That doesn’t mean the area surrounding Arenas and the Olympic Village won’t thrive during that time. Detroit recently turned down an invitation to bid on the 2024 Summer Olympics citing uncertainty in the city’s long term financial situation. The United States Olympic Committee found the city appealing for its location across the river from Canada. You have to consider what that statement means though, which is essentially, “well you’re close enough to Canada so all of the foreign under 21 athletes will have somewhere to drink. When I lived in Hartford, people would tell me the best thing about it was that you were 2 hours from either New York City or Boston. The Canada statement is essentially the same thing. With an up-front $10 million payment and a commitment to a $3 billion budget, the city of Detroit had to turn it down. With the potential economic influx into the nearby Canadian economy rather than Detroit’s, it’s hard to blame them too. Just because they had to turn down this opportunity though, doesn’t mean there aren’t other options. The Super Bowl, March Madness, the NHL Winter Classic, the MLB All-Star game, and other major sporting events could all potentially be hosted by the city without having to commit to the construction of major sports facilities and housing for athletes.
While I like the idea that the sports entertainment industry could help heal cities, it is not a sustainable long term solution, by definition. Without a prolonged period of achievement, other solutions are necessary and vital to maintain an economic stability. While I’m sure the Tigers would love to win a World Series every year, or even on a regular basis, it makes for a bad economic proposal and the opportunity to host events only comes around every so often. New Orleans has been able to successfully host a series of major events in recent years following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and perhaps the city of Detroit needs to take a look at their playbook and see if there’s a way to better market itself before it becomes a giant gentrification experiment. In terms of a short term healing prospect, a little tough love for the local team may be just what the doctor ordered. Though victory through sports may not heal all wounds, may only be a temporary distraction, and certainly will not fix physical structures, many accounts imply that the return to normalcy does help those trying to recover in immeasurable ways and allows the community to have a sense of resiliency by sharing that achievement with their local team. The resiliency of individuals and having hope and pushing forward when common sense tells you not to is part of the thriving success of many sports franchises, and is essential for communities in the face of adversity if they wish to persevere.
On a side note, both teams playing in the Super Bowl next week, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos represent communities that were hit by extreme flooding and intense weather last year. I’m interested in seeing whether the winning team reflects on what their local community has been through.
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Crasnick, Jerry. "'Boston Strong' ... Sox have lived it." ESPN. October 18, 2013. http://espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs/2013/story/_/id/9840851/boston-red-sox-fully-embraced-boston-marathon-survivors (accessed January 20, 2014).
Johnson, Christopher. "Women’s soccer team embodies Japan’s post-disaster resilience." The Washington Times. July 17, 2011. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jul/17/womens-soccer-team-embodies-japans-post-disaster-r/?page=all (accessed November 2, 2013).
Lapointe, Joe. "Thriving Saints Helped New Orleans Revive After Hurricane Katrina ." The New York Times. January 23, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/sports/football/24saints.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed January 20, 2014).
Rosenthal, Ken. "Yankees Became America's Team in 2001." Fox Sports. September 10, 2011. http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/following-the-terrorist-attacks-of-sept-11-the-new-york-yankees-became-americas-team-090311 (accessed January 20, 2014).
Schneidder, Nate. "City of Champions Highlights Amazing Year for Detroit." The Morning Sun. May 22, 2009. http://detroitcityofchamps.com/City%20of%20Champions%20highlights%20amazing%20year%20for%20Detroit%20-%20The%20Morning%20Sun%20(themorningsun_com).htm (accessed January 21, 2014).
Image: By Darren Durlack of the Boston Globe. http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/11/02/photos-the-red-sox-rolling-rally/0z57xJlOMnTBkpHsW0s7tI/story.html?pic=14