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Username: Mrjoshua

Post Number: 832
Registered: 03-2005
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Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2006 - 1:17 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

When Sports Mend a City's Soul
May 18, 2006; Page D3
By Jeff Zaslow, The Wall Street Journal

The Detroit Pistons are favored to win the NBA championship. The Detroit Tigers are having their best start in years. And the Detroit Red Wings had the NHL's best record this season.

Can sports triumphs cheer up a troubled city? "Absolutely," says Eric Fornasiero, a financial consultant in suburban Detroit, where the economy has been battered by the woes of the auto industry. "I look at numbers my entire day, and I'd rather be a sports-stats junkie, checking out batting averages, than having to look at stats on how many people were laid off."

The 1968 Tigers celebrate their World Series victory.

Sports teams have a good record of buoying cities in bad times. From 1975 to 1980, the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls, offering residents a boost as the steel industry declined. The Yankees, by playing in the 2001 World Series, gave New Yorkers an emotional respite after Sept. 11. And last year, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints suited up for a game, albeit out of town, helping residents believe that life could inch toward normal.

In Detroit, sports teams are the leading form of escapism. Yes, people often talk about the city's high rates of homicide and unemployment, and about mass auto layoffs and foreclosed homes. But locals also talk incessantly about sports.

The teams "can keep a person's spirits up," says Gabrielle Nettle, a 19-year-old from Clarkston, Mich. One day last season, she went to a Pistons game. It was raining and she was miserable, having been laid off hours earlier.

Waiting in line to get into the Palace, where the Pistons play, she was miffed when people cut in front of her. But that turned out to be fortuitous. After her ticket was scanned, a giant banner was unfurled, confetti was thrown, and Pistons President Tom Wilson arrived, cheerleaders in tow, to give her prizes for being the season's millionth fan.

For Pistons fans, the fact that a laid-off worker was honored on center court that day was a resonant moment.

Detroiters say they're reeling from all the bad news. Just last month, the Onion, a satirical newspaper, hyped a fanciful story saying Detroit would be "sold for scrap." Only on the sports pages -- despite the Red Wings' collapse in the playoffs -- has the news been mostly bright.

Of course, winning sports teams can't solve an area's underlying problems. Today's Detroit teams worry about fans moving away in search of work. A recent poll shows that 51% of area residents doubt their children and grandchildren will find jobs in the state. "Season-ticket holders pass good seats at Lions games from generation to generation," says Detroit sportscaster Eli Zaret. He likens it to a "sense of patriotism." But if young people move away, local sports seats could go empty. The area's economic troubles are "a colossal wake-up call for all of us," admits the Pistons' Mr. Wilson.

Still, Detroit's teams have a history of lifting residents during hard times. In July 1967, racial rioting left 43 dead and 2,500 stores torched or looted. That summer, Tigers players became civic leaders, with outfielder Willie Horton famously venturing into the riot zone, in uniform, to calm people down.

The following season, in a city beset by white flight and the ruins left by the rioting, residents both black and white celebrated together when the Tigers won the World Series. Many believe the 1968 Tigers gave the city hope, which residents held on to for years afterward.

As a teenager in 1968, Chuck Helppie, now a wealth manager in Ann Arbor, Mich., joined hundreds of fans on Detroit's airport tarmac to welcome the Tigers home after they won the Series in St. Louis. "People were climbing onto the wings of random planes, looking inside the windows to see if the Tigers were inside," he recalls. "It was absolute pandemonium and joy. Finally, we had a good story about our city."

These days, Mr. Wilson believes a 2006 Pistons championship could also transcend sports. He has away playoff games broadcast on big screens at the Palace. The entry fee is $5, and proceeds go to charity. As many as 22,000 fans have shown up for these live broadcasts.

Especially in a city "where things seem so desperate," Mr. Wilson says, people prefer to celebrate good times collectively. "No one wants to drink in an empty bar."

Write to Jeffrey Zaslow at jeffrey.zaslow@wsj.com
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Username: Smogboy

Post Number: 2657
Registered: 11-2004
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Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2006 - 3:38 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

That being said, does an early playoff exit also affect a city's psyche as well??
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Username: Lilpup

Post Number: 1025
Registered: 06-2004
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Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2006 - 8:35 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

only if both teams do it and the Tigers stumble

Unless, of course, the teams they lose to end up in the finals or take the championship.

(Message edited by lilpup on May 18, 2006)

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