- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

The Saints went about their football business in Oakland, Calif., last night, as well they should have, despite the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.

That was one of the trivial questions lurking in the vicinity of the game, as so often happens in the sports culture immediately following a searing event that transfixes the nation.

The urge to be respectful is genuine, and the call to have perspective obligatory.

Yet a game is no better or worse than other entertainment forms, there to be sampled. Or not.

Those who fled the city before the storm no doubt have sought entertainment diversions from the safety of their hotel rooms, if only to interrupt the tedium of the unknowable. That diversion might be a movie or a sitcom, but television programmers do not ask if they should air or not air a make-believe version of life.

The juxtaposition of a game and a submerged city with an unknown death toll is disconcerting, although it is one we have learned to assimilate amid the roar of the crowd and unsettling reports in the war on terror.

Understandably, the hearts and minds of the Saints were elsewhere, burdened as they were by television news feeds and pictures showing a city in an abyss of despair and anarchy.

No game, of course, is equipped to ease the tumult and torment of those in dire need of clean water, food and medical attention. No game is about to ease the suffering of those who have been displaced or who have lost loved ones.

But so much of life is about pushing forward, about holding up to the dark circumstances in your midst, and this is one of those times for the NFL team that represents New Orleans and plays in the hurricane-damaged Superdome.

A return to even a vague normalcy in New Orleans is months away, and the Saints are not an element in the arduous process. To play or not to play serves no tangible function in either case. So play. There is little each member of the Saints can contribute to the massive recovery effort other than aiding family members and loved ones, or making private donations.

The Saints clung to the notion that a game could provide a tiny diversion to those struggling to cope in the aftermath. Theirs undoubtedly is a far-fetched hope for those still stuck in a city with no basic services and pandemonium all about.

The Saints have been granted a three-day break to tend to the needs of their families this weekend.

Receiver Joe Horn is planning to return to his hometown to be part of the chaotic relief effort, if that is possible.

“I’m going to try to help, donate money, try to feed the families who have been in the Superdome, do whatever it takes,” he says. “If I have to spend a million dollars to get food, anything monetarily, I’ll do that.”

Horn’s sense of humanity is laudable, if not contagious, as other prominent athletes are digging into their pocketbooks to help the afflicted.

Donations are coming from quarterbacks Brett Favre and Steve McNair, who have strong ties to Mississippi, and tennis star Serena Williams.

Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL and the Southeastern Conference have pledged at least $1million apiece to the American Red Cross, and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue says the league is looking into other avenues to contribute to the relief effort.

For now, the Saints are a nomadic symbol of a city that once was. They, too, are without a home and up against an uncertain future.

They carry the prospect of a sunny day again.

That prospect may look distant, considering the grim and desperate images being beamed out of Party Town, USA.

But one day, a city and football team will be whole again.


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