NFL teams have often rallied cities around them in times of tragedy. Think back to the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina for the most famous example. The Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins most recently put their city on their backs during their playoff runs in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Now the Detroit Lions are looking to give recently bankrupted Detroit something to cheer about as their city continues its long climb out of the financial hell that over building of projects (Sorry, Ford Field) and the death of the auto industry has put the once proud Motor City in.
Lions receiver Nate Burleson told USA Today Sports on Wednesday that his teammates feel a responsibility to lift the spirits of Detroit, which last month became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy.
“A lot of people might say, ‘Man, it’s tough playing in Detroit, man. You guys went bankrupt. Your city sucks. There’s burned-down buildings, schools that are not even open.’ But it’s a great gift to bear that weight of the city, especially if you can deliver on a product that people want to see,” he told USA Today.
Detroit’s population grew to 1.8 million people in the 1950′s, many of whom were lured by plentiful, well-paying auto jobs before the auto industry crumbled.
Today, in the aftermath of the 2009 auto industry meltdown, the population struggles to stay above 700,000 as more and more residents give up and pack their bags to leave the once proud major US city. The result is a metropolis where whole neighborhoods are practically deserted and basic services are cut off in places.
Looming over the crumbling landscape is a budget deficit believed to be more than $380 million and long-term debt that could be as much as $20 billion.
The scary future for the city is not deterring the Lions, even if they know that winning football games doesn’t exactly offset a complicated social and economic issue like what is unfolding in Detroit.
“It’s not going to fix everything, but it’s a Band-Aid that can temporarily heal a lot of open wounds that we have in this city,” Burleson told the newspaper.
Reggie Bush, a member of those 2006 Saints, knows that the power of winning can heal a city.
“We can definitely use that as fuel to maybe help restore some pride and hope within the city, within the people,” Bush told the newspaper.
Some of the problems in Detroit stem from things the Lions benefited from like the building of huge modern sports venues that at one point were designed to breathe life into downtown. Now the players aim to give fans in the city something to cheer about as Detroit enters an uncertain future, something that the high powered Lions offense might be able to achieve each Sunday by putting some points on the scoreboard to ease the minds of the Motor City.