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The Super Bowl: An Educational Tale (Sort of)

The Super Bowl: An Educational Tale (Sort of)

Right now I’m thinking about the Indianapolis Colts.  Due to play in the Super Bowl next Sunday evening against the New Orleans Saints, I can’t help but wonder who, apart from their homeys, might be rooting for them.  Everyone I know – even here in rabid Patriots Nation – wants the Saints to win. 

The Saints are a classic feel-good story.  Not only do they seem like good guys, maybe not the best players but perhaps the ones having the most fun and, more importantly, the most aware of what their success means.  Their remarkable season transcends personal and franchise glory.  The Saints today are who they are in part because of the tragedy the region endured and a magical relationship that has since grown up between a city, a stadium and a team.

Who can forget the dreadful scenes of the Superdome right after Katrina, packed with traumatized hurricane refugees sweltering in the heat and humidity, desperate for water, food and a way out?  When reports of conditions inside the stadium began to circulate – the overcrowding, lack of air conditioning, the fetid atmosphere, the clogged and overflowing toilets – and the lackadaisical, incompetent, even criminal emergency response became apparent, it was as if we suddenly were forced to witness something ugly in our national character.   The decade just past was characterized in part by a series of such revelations: Abu Ghraib, extreme rendition, the use of torture not only admitted but even promoted.  We, as a country, were not who we thought we were.

Just as 9-11 symbolized both a horrifying outrage and a response that sacrificed fundamental rights and values for an elusive (some would say illusionary) sense of security, Katrina became emblematic of deep racial and class disadvantages, and of how, despite those disparities, with grit, vision and hard work people can rise up.  Even after all this time the City of New Orleans is still not restored, especially some of the poorer and hardest hit areas like the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard’s parish.  Not everyone has been able to come home.  Two years ago – three years after Katrina – I went to a Saints’ game in the Superdome and there were still tatters hanging from holes in the ceiling.  However, the city and the stadium are still here and the Saints have come to symbolize that will to survive. Even in dark days good times can prevail.

The expansion of sports in high schools and colleges, a significant result of Title IX legislation, has had a positive influence, especially for girls.  (More about the real concerns regarding football head injuries in another post.) The statistics of the benefits for girls who play team sports are startling: far fewer instances of pregnancy, abusive relationships, even later occurrences of breast cancer.

In educational and management circles we frequently invoke sports metaphors.  We point to the advantages of teamwork: how it teaches skills of cooperation and communication and draws on a diversity of strengths and perspectives.  Teamwork at its best creates an integrated entity far greater than the sum of its parts. 

In sports, a single goal can unify people who would otherwise have little in common.  In the case of New Orleans and the Saints, the prospect of winning the Super Bowl has created community, that integrated entity, as effectively as Katrina drowned it, when the affluent got out of town and the poor got stranded…or worse. 

I can’t help but feel sorry for the Colts.  No matter what happens next Sunday, they’ve already lost.  They probably are the better team but if they win the game, they’ll be seen by many as spoilers, and if they lose, they’ll be a footnote to the joyful noise that will reverberate from Bourbon Street to Main Streets across the nation.  If we end up celebrating the Saints’ victory, we’ll be celebrating a far more important achievement than the higher score of what is, after all, only a game: we’ll be honoring a will to win over disenfranchisement and despair and overwhelming odds.  Now and then sports can do that.  Laissez les bon temps rouler!

 

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50 comments

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11:15AM PST on Feb 8, 2010

Why are Americans so obsessed with SuperBowl?

10:18PM PST on Feb 7, 2010

What an awesome article! Unless you've ever lived here or are a native New Orleanian, one can never know what a very close-knit community we really are and what the Saints' SuperBowl win has done and will continue to do for ALL of us! Don't be fooled about Katrina, many PROFITED greatly while others, lost so much but, GAINED in heart and, in my opinion, we are the lucky ones, our hearts are now bigger!

As for the inequalities, I've learned in my almost 42 years, it's just a part of life! It happens in all of society, not just the NFL or in New Orleans!

4:27AM PST on Feb 7, 2010

read

7:55PM PST on Feb 6, 2010

I didn't watch any football this year. I just found out who was playing yesterday. Am I going to be watching the game or commercials? Nope. I have better things to do with my time. I can always catch the ads later on the internet.

8:21PM PST on Feb 4, 2010

Thanks.

12:41PM PST on Feb 3, 2010

Peaco Todd TY so much for that lovely article. Of course I have been rooting for da Saints for 25yrs and yes of course I want them to win. I too survived Katrina during the storm and 6 days on an overpass, so I truely want them to win but the most important part of all this is we who survived have for the most part gone on and overcome our horrible experience and have become better because of it. It would be the icing on the cake for so many. It remains to be seen on Sunday so I say (Please God let the Saints win) may the best team win. Go into that stadium knowing and doing what you do best and always keep your heads up y'all have nothing to be ashamed of. I finish as I always do Laissez les bon temps rouler.

6:49AM PST on Feb 3, 2010

interesting read thankyou.

1:11PM PST on Feb 2, 2010

I had this same debate and had to tell my wife and children, I think this is way too serious.
There are, however, some other issues -- Peyton Manning has close ties to New Orleans and Drew Brees educated in Indiana at Purdue -- now there is potential for conflict.
have fun, enjoy the SuperBowl and be glad whoever wins.

11:57AM PST on Feb 2, 2010

You are right in that sports can bring about a sense of community and togetherness, but you are DEAD wrong in your assertation that the Saints should win over the Colts, based on the fact that their community has experienced grand tragedy and Indianapolis, the Colt's community has not. For crying out loud, this is a GAME, not a PITY PARTY! Of course New Orleans is proud of it's team and their accomplishment of landing a spot in this year's Superbowl, and most would agree they deserve something to make them smile and cheer about, but the Colt's community is proud of their teams accomplishments this year as well! Just because they didn't experience a catastrophic event, does not make them less deserving of a game win. It is about skill and competition, not EMOTION! Yes, get real!

9:55AM PST on Feb 2, 2010

too much thinking here.Bring on a good game! thank you.

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