Only in New Orleans could this be classified as "a return to normalcy." The Crescent City, torn asunder by Hurricane Katrina, stamped by federal neglect and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s neoliberal experimentaion, will once again collide with the freewheeling, hard-partying frenzy of the NFL’s crown jewel: the Super Bowl.
It was announced this week that New Orleans will host their tenth Super Bowl in 2013, to the cheers of journalists with bionic livers and expense-account executives the nation over. It’s also being celebrated across the sporting spectrum as an act of altruism. It shouldn’t be, but that hasn’t stopped the soundtrack of salutations.
ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli wrote, "The Super Bowl was made for New Orleans. And as anybody who has attended a championship game there knows, New Orleans was made for the Super Bowl…. Great move owners!"
Governor Jindal said, "This is a huge win for New Orleans but also the entire state of Louisiana." Previously, Jindal has decried federal spending on disaster relief, which is somewhat like a governor of Nevada making a push to outlaw gambling.
The NFL wants to play up the choice as an act of post-Katrina missionary work, with commissioner Roger Goodell saying, "I think this is a great statement about the spirit and people of New Orleans and the great relationship the Saints and the NFL have in that community."
"No city has been through more than New Orleans," said Rita Benson LeBlanc, a part owner of the New Orleans Saints. "This is just a true testament to what an entire community can do."
Pasquarelli added, "Playing host to a Super Bowl should address some of the city’s lingering problems." By "lingering problems" he must mean sky-high poverty and unemployment. Much has been made about the city’s comeback, on the basis of healthy employment numbers (relative to the rest of the country) and a mini-construction boom buoyed by post-Katrina reconstruction.
But many New Orleans residents still feel compelled to celebrate any infusion of business, particularly the business of unlimited expense accounts and debauchery the Super Bowl inevitably brings with it. This is because the poverty in the city is still persistent. In March, the metro area lost jobs for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. And New Orleans, with some families still living in federal trailers and others still trying to return, remains the murder capital of the United States.
This is because the city has become profoundly dependent on its service economy since 2005.
This is also because the Obama administration has to date done nothing to help the Gulf Coast despite his repeated assurances to do otherwise. A look at politifact.com shows a depressing litany of broken promises straight from Obama’s mouth on everything from strengthening the levees to rebuilding hospitals and schools.
As New Orleans resident and commentator Harry Shearer wrote:
“The farther we get into this administration, the clearer it becomes that New Orleans is now enjoying its second consecutive federal administration which, far from offering to fix what it broke, far from offering a hand of support, is merely offering one finger.”
This is why, in the absence of alternatives, the Super Bowl money train looks all the more seductive.
Scott Fujita, a star linebacker for the Saints who lives within the New Orleans city limits, said to me, "I’m thrilled about it…. You’d be hard-pressed to find a city that throws a better party, or a city that deserves the business more than New Orleans." He is correct on both counts. But this is one party that will come with a price tag which should make us more than skeptical. To paraphrase John Reed, the NFL never wants something for nothing. It will mean at least $85 million more in taxpayer money for Superdome improvements, including more luxury suites plus other bells and whistles. This investment is being pushed hard by Jindal and the New Orleans business community. Jindal is very fond of saying that "government can’t solve our problems." However, it can provide Jindal’s corporate backers with more luxury suites.
The Super Bowl decision perpetuates the status quo in New Orleans. The city will be forced to rise and fall on the basis of an external service economy. Jobs and wages will fluctuate rapidly based on whichever circus happens to be in town that week. Taxpayer dollars will pour into amenities for moneyed tourists and not into building the kind of stable industrial base that can stabilize the community. This will be another sporting shock doctrine.
Saints owner Tom Benson said after the announcement, in a moment of unvarnished truth, "It won’t be all trickle-down, but it will definitely help." Someone needs to ask, When the Super Bowl party leaves town, who will really be helped and who will be left on the sidelines?
[Dave Zirin is the author of “A People’s History of Sports in the United States” (The New Press) Receive his column every week by emailing [email protected]. Contact him at [email protected].]