Welcome to a weekly column by Kyle Bauer on various happenings in national and local sports. Agree or disagree with the author? Please comment below or let him know your thoughts by email,[email protected] or twitter, @kyle_bauer
Sports is not a savior, it is merely a distraction.
With Detroit officially barreling into bankruptcy yesterday, we need to brace ourselves for hack journalists conjuring up a mouthful of saliva and licking a gigantic stamp to mail-in a story on how the impending success of this year’s Tigers squad will “save us”. You might proudly grin, you might share it on Facebook and Twitter, or pass around the rag at work. I’ll be rolling my eyes far back into the depths of my head, wondering how we can regurgitate these same words over and over and over and…..well you get my point.
Overall, Detroit sits somewhere firmly between the third-world conditions of the neighborhoods and burgeoning Midtown, Corktown and “Gilbertville” sectors of the city.
There is a lot of good that we cannot ignore because the positives of the city are jumping up and screaming at us like a proud five-year old desperate for your attention. There is unquestioned growth in select chunks of the city–steady entrepreneurial progress in plain sight that I’ve witnessed both as a resident and a visitor over the past seven years.
I think back to the first moment where Detroit really seemed alive to me; the Super Bowl XL festivities that lined Woodward–an event, that aside from one fatal shooting, was praised as a major success for the city and one that opened my eyes to a potential world that was otherwise forbidden.
I also met the other reality of Detroit later that night, when to avoid parking in sketchy parts unknown, we made the rookie mistake of taking the city bus from Larned and Woodward back up to Macomb Mall. It was after 1am and we were joined mostly by Detroit residents–broken, intoxicated, shrouded in desperation, transience and the stench of hopeless poverty. I couldn’t contain my whiteness; my eyes were wide open both as a kid from a highly segregated town and someone who was so protected from the realities of what was actually going on in Detroit and what Detroiters actually were living through. The mix of fear and pity was rich but largely born out of ignorance of a city and people I rarely acknowledged outside of sports.
As a suburbanite, the fear is programmed into you. There has been rarely a parent from Clarkston to Monroe that hasn’t given their teenager to twenty-something son or daughter the talk. No, I’m not referring to an awkward dialogue on sexual relations, I’m referring to the lecture received before cavorting to Detroit or even openly entertaining the thought. Your parents might’ve said something to likes of the muggings, carjackings, rape and homicides you will be an instant glowing neon target for and possibly said it with a racial tone. Your parents may of spoke of how great Detroit was before “they” ruined it and how going anywhere near the rotting hellhole that it is today is a pointless and life threatening waste of your time. Or maybe you are the parent giving this speech. I’ve gotten a variation of this several times. Until that mild night in February ’06, it was enough to keep me away. It’s been enough to keep most away before and since.
Super Bowl XL was supposed to be the pivotal point in Detroit history. It was when we first heard the word “comeback”– a word that in the post-mortem of bankruptcy seems haunting. That wasn’t the first time we had heard of sports uplifting a city and certainly won’t be that last, but was undoubtably supposed to be most endearing. It was an international event and one that Detroit succeeded at, yet here we are. Some eight months later we were told that the “Restore the Roar” Tigers would uplift our weary spirits enough to keep fighting for our jobs, slowly let down our cynicism and begin reinvesting our money and time at somewhere other than Hockeytown Cafe or Cheli’s Chili, yet here we are. Then, of course, the 2009 Tigers, who led the division for much of the season before dropping a one game playoff to Minnesota, prompting the notorious Sports Illustrated feature authored by Lee Jenkins which was the sweetest sap dripping down into the pander bucket, yet here we are.
Um, so lets also toss in the 2008 Red Wings, a Chrysler Super Bowl commercial, the 2011 Lions and the previous two Tigers teams, yet here we are.
They may have all lifted our spirits briefly and maybe over time they’ve brought people down to the city frequently enough to look beyond the casinos and Foxtown. But yesterday has shown the fallacy of all of those feel-good columns that (to me) are inane, tired and redundant. Sports have not saved this city, at best it’s offered a short-term distraction and a less impactful economic upturn. I wish it were so simple that the Tigers could solve any of Detroit’s problems but it should now be apparent to everyone that it will never be that easy.
Instead of looking to sports to serve as merely a distraction, let’s examine ourselves as suburbanites or city-proper residents. Let’s end the tradition of giving our kids the talk. Instead of scaring people away from Detroit, let’s encourage scavenging of the city and put our money in ventures aside from just ones owned by Olympia Entertainment.
Through this exercise, we can continue to infuse money into the local and largely independent private sector, which is an asset that bankruptcy will not be able to take from. Detroit has renown food and drink, whether it be at Sugarhouse for cocktails, Atwater for beers, Avalon for baked goods, D’Mongos for soul food and atmosphere or Supino for what is (in my opinion) the best pizza on earth, I just haven’t tasted and can’t imagine any better. This city has developed such a strong dining culture in the past 10 years, it is something that makes embracing an aspect of the city not only worth “risking your life” but it’s also easy to digest.
What is much more difficult to digest is the squalor which remains rampant throughout a vast majority of the city. Yes, there is a lot of good but especially now, we cannot overlook the bad. Do you really want to rep for “THE D”? Then get involved and volunteer. There are several charities, mentoring and blight-busting programs you can donate time and/or money to, helping the residents who will see no relief from the pain they’re in for the foreseeable future.
In a sense, we all came from Detroit; we all have a connection to the city, at least one root from the family tree entrenched in the spoke streets; Woodward, Gratiot, Van Dyke, Fort, Warren etc. Many of our families settled in Detroit–beginning their lives as Americans on some of these same streets that lay in ruin today. Instead of taking flight further north (or south), leaving the region or even the state–instead of turning away in disgust or cynical laughter, lets pull together and lend our lineage, people and businesses of the city, a hand. We can do this without supporting the (mostly) inept and filthy city government that’s been trying to squeeze blood from this turnip for decades now.
We have to help because it’s apparent the nation or world will not. Unfortunately –as tact, dignity and empathy continue to devolve in the “social media” age– bankruptcy has shown how little outsiders care about us. One hashtag trending nationally for a while on Twitter was titled “NewDetroitCityMottos”. Plugging my nose, I dove into this scum bucket of deplorable insensitivity and ignorance. Some turned this into purely a political issue, mocking President Obama and liberals, claiming this was their “paradise” and it also included an especially offensive meme blending the Trayvon Martin case, racism and this matter into one inedible smoothie, faux-quoting Obama,
“If I had a city, it would look like Detroit.”
What these sub-humans are proudly ignoring is that Detroit is filled with citizens of this country who have absolutely nothing. This city houses thousands of people –44 percent, according to 2009 census data– who are below the poverty-line. These people are desperate and hungry, some of these people have children to feed. Civil servants who worked tirelessly, often over-matched and underfunded for years, will likely lose their much-deserved pensions. I don’t understand how poverty, hunger, desperation and the loss of pensions for teachers and first-responders are fodder for jokes, especially when this issue is throbbing in the former manufacturing hub of North America. This is not a city to be gawked at, a situation to be laughed at. Detroit was once was of the most powerful cities in the world; a city that birthed the assembly-line, American unions, the middle-class, key civil-rights battles, timeless music and cars that drove this nation and for a time artillery that defended this nation. From that to this in a little over a century. We are an exemplary American city in pain and it’s very disturbing so many other Americans find humor and enjoyment in that.
Unfortunately this response is the other end of the Detroit media spectrum. It is either total pity or complete tastelessness –both styles long played out– neither encouraging any actual initiative.
The 50 year fall of Detroit isn’t a matter of politics, it’s a transcendent and unprecedented matter of humanity in our country. Athletes can do what they do on the field, court or rink but typically their impact ends there. Instead of welling up at formulaic schmaltz about our hopes increasing with the velocity of each Verlander fastball, lets stand up for ourselves and the city to take action by investing our time and money into the residents and businesses.
We exist in this historic and pivotal time in Detroit, lets take advantage instead of being preoccupied with our distractions.
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer