Who dat goin’ to da Super Bowl?!

Posted February 2, 2010

Sinners and Saints… New Orleans Redemption Found?

Almost everyone in Louisiana- including myself- is excited about the Saints making it to the Super Bowl. No. Excited is an understatement. Associated Press writer Cain Burdeau wrote “Saints euphoria sweeps New Orleans past Katriana; Roar of hurricane now replaced by roar of fans” (ABC News, WSJ, others).

Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints

The season’s victory is being celebrated across racial divisions both inside the city and region. It has also to some extent obscured class divisions within the city. It is a collective point of reference that unifies the people of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Gulf South. Burdeau has part of it right: the excitement of the city’s underdog football team reaching the final game has released collective endorphins, and acting as a group therapy for a city still rebuilding and state plagued with budget crisis. I was watching the Saints-Vikings game with friends in north Louisiana. It was a nail biter. In the end, people jumped up and down, screamed, cried. In New Orleans my friends and comrades flooded into the streets with everyone else in a spontaneous all-night Sunday party. But Burdeau writes as if Katrina was merely a natural disaster, a single event: a day, a week, perhaps two. But Katrina was more of a man-made catastrophe. Government neglect and neoliberal “shock doctrine” have privatized transportation, destroyed unions, and kept Charity Hospital shuttered.

I am hoping for a Saints victory on February 7. But everyone should know that a Saints victory doesn’t let the country off the hook for the tragedy of not prioritizing rebuilding the region- and peoples’ lives- after Hurricane Katrina.

TaNaKh (The Old Testament)

The Saints were established in 1967 as a modest expansion team. They played at Tulane Stadium through 1974. After forty-three years they have finally made it to the Superbowl.

The Saints were established near the population peak- and after the beginning of economic decline of New Orleans. The team’s colors, black, old gold, and white (unchanged to date), symbolize the initial owner (Texan John W. Mecom, Jr) as well as the city’s strong ties to “black gold” (oil and gas industry) as much as the city’s legacy as the shipping and finance capital of the old gold amassed from King cotton cultivated by Black slaves. The fleur de lis, of course, is the heraldic symbol of the divine right of (French) kings, stretching back to Clovis.

In 1980 the Saints lost fourteen consecutive games, after which Buddy D Diliberto called on fans to wear paper bags over their heads at Saints home games. It took 33 years before the team won their first playoff game in 2000. The Saints were showing themselves to be a decent performing team on the verge of Hurricane Katrina, but owner Tom Benson threatened to move the team if Governor Blanco refused a new stadium or annual cash payments from the state.

Flood & New Beginnings

The Superdome was the shelter of last resort in Hurricane Katrina. It was by far the most solid and stable large structure in the city. It became a symbol of human suffering and government ineptitude. But before many hospitals were online or schools were reopened, rebuilding of the dome commenced.

At the time of the city’s (and its displaced residents’) greatest vulnerability, Tom Benson began maneuvering to move the team to San Antonio. The 2005 home games were split between the Alamodome in San Antonio and Tiger Stadium at LSU (Baton Rouge, LA). The team offices and practices were domiciled in San Antonio, and Texas politicians were busy helping to facilitate that relocation, while simultaneously demonizing the internally displaced persons taking refuge in their state. The Cowboys’ Jerry Jones even joined the other buzzards circling our wounded.

Trashed Refrigerator reads DO NOT OPEN, BENSON'S INSIDE!The people of New Orleans were incensed. Rotting refrigerators placed on the curbs carried many social messages aimed at George Bush, but almost as many lamented Tom Benson’s greed during the city’s time of need. I read one marked “stinks almost as bad as Tom Benson.” The city’s anger was boiling over. At the time I used every Benson kvetch as an opportunity to talk municipal/ state ownership, or to contrast the Saints with Green Bay. The anger toward Benson was often expressed in raw class terms, and has lasted-albeit in residual and diminished form- until this NFL season.

The pushback from the people of New Orleans- and NFL and commissioner Paul Tagliabue- forced Benson to keep the Saints in New Orleans at least for the time being. By September 2006, Benson announced a sold out season, a franchise first. The Saints won their first home game in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, beating the Atlanta Falcons 23-3 and went on to a commendable 2006 season. “A Bush we can all agree on,” a witty slogan by the socially liberal Dirty Coast promotions referring to 2006 draft pick Reggie Bush. No doubt was Reggie New Orleans’ (“our”) Bush; a Black superhero that happened to have the same surname as the villain President. But the “we can ALL agree on” foreshadows a certain détente between New Orleanians with the forces of government and capital.

Jericho Road?

The 2007 season was the second sold out season, with all 77,000 plus seats and luxury boxes sold- and made it to the NFC championship for the second time- making it a more popular team than ever, despite New Orleans’ post-Katrina population only 60% of its former self. The 2008 season was a comparative disappointment, with the team losing its last two games, finishing 7-9. This year the team struggled mid-season after faltering to the Dallas Cowboys at home, but ultimately made it to the Super Bowl. A Super Bowl victory will be good for the spirit, even if it doesn’t begin to address the deep scars of the city and its people.

The Saints’ season wasn’t simply a product of luck, or Voodoo for that matter. Sean Payton and the Drew Brees have spent years honing their and organization alongside a team of increasingly talented individuals. The team has perfected a rushing game, kept the ball longer than their opponents, and , despite 20% less yards gained overall, they manage to catch a number of receptions. Likewise, the working class folks of New Orleans will need strong much stronger organization to counter the neoliberal offensive.

We can’t win the “big game” of the class if we can’t win a single game (a set of reforms or concessions). To build power, we must build a strategy : we can’t win anything if we’re not as organized as the other team (the ruling class). When developing this analogy, a comrade (Krisna B. from Gathering Forces) paraphrased C.L.R. James: “we’re facing a crisis of the self-mobilization of the working class.” All too often we wait around for a Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Drew Brees or Sean Payton or some other leader, because of our tendency to consider history as a hall of fame of great personalities (Malcolm, W.E.B. Dubois, Angela Davis), so do we have a similar tendency to think of team sports merely as the great athletes who were a part of them. But when a good team comes together, it is MORE than the sum of its parts. Of course, football and working class and popular organization aren’t the same thing. But what parallels can we draw???

When the Saints come marching in?

On this Sunday, February 7, I hope the world is rooting for the New Orleans Saints. More importantly, I hope the world is rooting for the people of Haiti suffering through the aftermath of the earthquakes, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan struggling against continued wars and occupation, and the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast still struggling to put their lives together after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans needs better public transportation, affordable housing, and healthcare. The race and class inequalities initially exposed by Hurricane Katrina have not gone away with the ascension of the sports team. They are symptomatic of the capitalist system and continue to be found in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, throughout the United States and world. This is not a scrimmage. It’s time to the working classes of the world to play to win!

Read More:

On the Saints from RightHandThief

More on sports from Edge of Sports by Dave Zirin


4 responses to “Who dat goin’ to da Super Bowl?!”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    A New Day for New Orleans?
    by Jordan Flaherty, Left Turn editor (repost)

    In a city consumed by the Superbowl and Mardi Gras celebrations, New Orleans elected a new mayor last weekend. Mitch Landrieu, the state’s current Lieutenant Governor, won 65% of the vote – almost twice the total of the other ten candidates combined. Landrieu will be the city’s first white mayor since his father held the office, from 1970-78. Troy Henry, a former Enron executive, came in second place with 14% of the vote. Fair housing lawyer and progressive activist James Perry came in fifth with 3%.

    Voters also made selections in a wide range of other races including sheriff, coroner, assessor, several different judgeships, and all seven city council seats. In contests where there were three or more candidates and no one received more than 50% of the votes, there will be a runoff on March 6.

    The elections marked the consolidation of a change in the city’s political power structure. For more than three decades, most elected positions in the city were in Black hands. But now, in the context of mass displacement after Katrina – as well as low voter turnout – that has changed. For the first time in more than 30 years, New Orleans will have a white mayor and a 5-2 majority-white city council.

    For now, the city is united in an ecstatic euphoria over its first-ever Superbowl championship and for a beautiful moment it seems like the country’s attention and support is focused on New Orleans. It’s an open question whether the city’s new political leadership can keep this often divided city together, and oversee a much-needed revitalization. Even within the celebration, there are worrying signs.

    On Saturday, January 30, the first major parade of Mardi Gras season – called Krewe du Vieux – rolled through the Marigny and French Quarter neighborhoods. The parade is known for it’s biting and often obscene satire, with floats often featuring the city’s public officials in graphic sexual poses. This year, the majority of floats depicted Mayor Nagin. He was a pig being roasted on one float, Nero fiddling while Rome burned on another, and buried in a cemetery in another.

    Ray Nagin has not been a great mayor. In fact, as the city’s first businessman mayor, he has narrowed the public sector. He has been a champion of the demolition of public housing and the transformation of New Orleans schools to a mostly charter system, and has done little to stand up for Charity Hospital, the city’s provider of free public health care. But many of those who have demonized the mayor (recent polls gave him less than 5% approval among white residents of the city and about 20% among Black residents) are missing their mark.

    The problems in New Orleans began long before Nagin was elected, and were multiplied by Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans needed tens of millions of dollars to rebuild its infrastructure even before the Hurricane. Schools were falling apart, public transportation was unreliable, and the city’s tourist-based economy offered few opportunities. Today, more than 60,000 residential addresses – about a third of the city’s homes – remain empty or abandoned. The city has one of the nation’s highest murder rates, a homeless population estimated at above 12,000, and a police department facing federal investigation for a wide range of crimes, including post-Katrina killings of unarmed civilians. Even if we had a great mayor, it would not be enough. The city needs federal support and visionary leadership. Only time will tell if those needs will be met.


  2. Krisna Avatar

    Thanks for posting this and thanks for the plug.

    I was asked to share a few thoughts on how folks see and experience sports.

    Football is more than just the game for ordinary folks which you have articulated exceptionally well (the Tom Benson disses, the hope of Reggie Bush, etc.). They invest all that is ugly and beautiful about them; all that is reactionary and all that is progressive.

    I worked with a guy in Gretna who hung a Saints helmet pendant upside down in the shop we worked out of. He was a Saints fan for years, but after being defeated so many times he lost hope. So when I asked why the helmet was upside down, he replied, “So I can shit in it.” That’s not the reaction of a guy whose favorite team lost the game. That’s a characterization of a people who have lost control and who have been beaten down by white supremacy and capitalism. People have to experience some wins to feel hopeful that they can go all the way. I once heard some lunatic Leftist say that you can turn out tens of thousands to a game, but only a handful to a protest. He couldn’t see the forest for the trees. After Katrina, Bears fans told Saints fans to swim home. Raiders fans rioted after winning a game a few years back, setting off racial tensions long in development.

    Football games are great cultural events that are completely intertwined with and expressed through the political contradictions of our time. When folks sit down to talk about football, they are talking about politics. This is one C.L.R.’s important contributions and it was a dynamic he saw in the game of Cricket (of which I know jack shit about–I think its like baseball). Football is a foil to discuss race, class, organization, strategy, and tactics.

    I could go on about this, but I think I’ve said enough.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    WhoDat Nation friendly to Crossdressers

    Only in New Orleans are football fans also into genderf*cking…

    Best pics are here

    Also check out NY Daily News, Nola.com and CNN iReport

  4. Isaac Avatar

    I thought this was pretty cool:

    Reasons To Adore Saints Linebacker Scott Fujita

    For one thing, he doesn’t care if anyone calls him a “Pinko Communist Fag from Berkeley.” Also:

    1) He diplomatically but firmly opposed the message of the Tebow ad, which will air during the Super Bowl Fujita is playing in Sunday. “The idea of focusing on the family – who wouldn’t agree with that?” he told The New York Times. “But the means of doing so, he and I might not see eye to eye all the way.” Fujita was adopted, and his biological mother was a teenager when he was born. “I’m just so thankful she had the courage and the support system to be able to carry out the pregnancy,” Fujita said. “I wouldn’t expect that of everybody.”

    2) He lent his name to the National Equality March and has been outspoken about gay rights issues.

    3) He supports an orphanage in New Orleans and started speaking out on gay rights in part because of his objection to laws limiting gay adoption. “What [such laws] are really saying is that the concern with one’s sexual orientation or one’s sexual preference outweighs what’s really important, and that’s finding safe homes for children,” he has said. “It’s also saying that we’d rather have kids bounce around from foster home to foster home throughout the course of their childhood, than end up in a permanent home.”

    4) He’s active on behalf breast cancer awareness (his mother is a two-time survivor), filming PSAs for Susan G. Komen New Orleans Race for the Cure and wearing a pink hat during interviews.

    5) He’s not afraid to speak up for his beliefs in a respectful, reasoned way. “People tell me, hey, that’s pretty courageous. You come out in favor of gay rights. I don’t think it’s that courageous,” he told The Times. “I think I have an opinion, that I wish was shared by everybody, but I honestly believe that it’s shared by more [football players] than we know because a lot of people just won’t speak out about it.”

    6) His teammates say his outspokenness has fueled debates in less-likely quarters. Says linebacker Scott Shanle,”We all like when he brings out his opinions. Debates get started.”

    7) He left the Dallas Cowboys for the post-Katrina New Orleans Saints because, according to The Boston Globe, “he told himself, ‘This could be bigger than football.””

    8) He often talks of drawing inspiration from the example set by his strong-willed Japanese-American grandmother, who was interned during World War II.

    9) He has a political science degree from Berkeley and a master’s in education. He has said he wants to be a public school teacher after retiring from football.