Images went from shocking to horrifying in the first 12 hours and then got worse. The Superdome, symbol of New Orleans as a great sports town, suddenly became the place where everything was going terribly wrong.
SI's Michael Silver was traveling to Houston and New Orleans with some New Orleans Saints, all of them growing more certain that football was obscenely inconsequential. But seeing Joe Horn, Deuce McAllister and others mingle with evacuees, Silver was struck by how many clung to the Saints like old, familiar friends. As veteran running back Fred McAfee put it, "Right now the team is their lifeline, their connection to what was real--because what they're experiencing is surreal."
The reality in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is already harsh, and how sports will fit in is complicated. Last year, during SI's 50th Anniversary, the magazine named 50 Sportstowns, and Petal, Miss., and East Baton Rouge, La., were honored for their community service. Hurricane Katrina brought a new reality to both.
East Baton Rouge, where the parish's Recreation and Park Commission serves 450,000 citizens, is playing a major role in relief operations, with buildings converted into Red Cross shelters or temporary medical facilities. "The entire landscape of our community has been drastically changed," the commission's Kristi Barnett said on Sunday. Petal (pop. 10,000) was hit hard. On Sunday, SI finally got a message from Tom Hardges, director of Petal's Recreation Department, who said they would soon get the power back on and needed everything.
Sporting events, games, offer a kind of ritual healing. I learned this at Yankee Stadium in September 2001. But all this is too important to be about big games. The healing has to start at the most basic level--community-based youth programs. SI will work with the people of Petal and East Baton Rouge as they recover, rebuild and renew their sports programs. We will inform you of their progress--in the magazine and on SI.com.