Can fervor for sports be redirected?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sports excite us, anger us, move us to action and unite us like nothing else in the world.

Just check my e-mail account if you want proof.

Our choice of headline for the front-page story about the Saints Super Bowl win was a sin in some minds, and you all have told me so.

“Voodoo victory,” conjured up images of satanic rituals and hexes for some, slandered the people of Haiti for others and cheapened the Saints talent for the rest. Believe me when I say our intent was none of the above. The headline, in our minds, went well with the story below it.

Since our staff wasn’t in Miami or New Orleans, our coverage of the biggest game in these parts in decades was limited.

For us, the story of the Saints was the story of their local fans.

So our sports editor headed out to a few local restaurants where groups of people were gathered to watch the game.

He was responsible for coming back with two stories — one for the front page and one for the front page of the sports section. His goal for the front of the news section was to find a fun, light-hearted tale of a fan watching the game.

He succeeded when he found a woman who jokingly thought her lighter had some type of control over the Saints success.

Coincidentally, each time she’d flick on the lighter, the Saints would excel.

She knew it was a joke, we knew it was a joke, but when it comes to sports fans, I guess you just can’t joke around.

To us, the tale of the magic lighter fit appropriately with the voodoo for which New Orleans is sometimes known.

Combine that with another V word —Victory — and we thought the headline worked.

More than a dozen of our readers e-mailed or called in their disappointment with our headline.

To those, we apologize for cheapening the Saints victory for you.

But the whole situation only furthers the belief that sports rule the world.

In my six years with this newspaper, the only other headline that’s garnered as much feedback was on a story about a few members of a sports team at a local high school that were in some criminal trouble.

I understood the motivations behind those calls; local teens were involved and some people thought our newspaper had treated them unfairly.

Headlines of murder, political corruptness, gangs, suicide, homelessness, child abuse and tragedy, though, never provoke more than a few calls or e-mail if that much.

Often, we hear nothing back from our community.

Until, that is, we mess with sports.

Many of those voicing concern over the headline mentioned that they were Christians and were personally offended that their team had been linked with something like voodoo.

I can understand that concern, however where is the same concern when we report that teenagers are increasingly involved in neighborhood gangs?

Where is the community outrage when we report on a murder or break-in?

Sports are a great pastime that unites us all; I’m as big of a fan as the next person.

But sports aren’t the most important thing.

What would happen if our community rallied around public education the way the area cheers for LSU?

What if we bought T-shirts, car flags, bumper stickers and spent our time cheering on local law enforcement like we did the Saints?

Sports are important, they give us a release from the world; but are they as important as we make them?

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551.