Football and Community in New Orleans

Football and Community in New Orleans
December 21, 2010
The New York Times

NEW ORLEANS — In most cities with N.F.L. teams, you expect a fair number of citizens to be fans of other teams. New Orleans may be the exception.

Everyone here seems to be a Saints fan, and that includes Douglas Evans.

Evans has been the president and chief executive of the Dryades Y.M.C.A. for the last 39 years. He came here from Evergreen, Ala., to attend Dillard University. Evans played football on the school’s last football team, in 1965, and tried out for the Saints, who started play in 1967.

As an underclassman at Dillard, he went to Dryades to volunteer, and he also played on some of the sports teams after the football season ended.

“One day,” he said, “a friend of mine who was the director got out of the pool and said, Hey Doug, I got a job for you.” And the rest is history.

Evans said that in New Orleans, the Saints are more than a football team. In Central City, they have become a beacon to a community that needs as much hope and positive reinforcement as possible.

For the last 17 years, Saints players have conducted a Thanksgiving program in which players distribute thousands of baskets.

The day after the Tampa Bay game on Nov. 22, 26 Saints players went to the Y.M.C.A. and distributed Thanksgiving baskets.

“The players do a lot of great things with us,” Evans said.

The Saints helped Dryades organize the midnight basketball program as an anticrime approach in the community to get kids off the street. The Benson Hoops Midnight Basketball program is anchored at the Y.

Evans said that the Saints’ success had generated a winning attitude.

“Embedded in every individual is a desire to win, a desire to be a part of something good and great,” he said. “To that end, when you have a sports franchise like the Saints embedded in the psyche of our community, it’s an inspirational moment for the citizenry and for the city.

“But it’s what we do with that beyond the actions of the players and the team itself in the community. Does it inspire you to want to really get up in the morning and go do something different the next day than you did the day before, just because of that spark that’s generated by a winning team?”

Evans has seen firsthand the positive impact a football team can have. “I have seen the worst of times and the best of times in my 39-year history here in this community,” he said. “For people in great despair, something good happened in the community, and they feel touched by that. I’ve seen the attitude of people change about themselves in what they think and what they feel about their community and the city.

“When you look at a Dallas, the expectation in that community is that they win, when you look at New York, the expectation in that community is that the Yankees win. That in and of itself raises the expectation level of everyone when you are expected to do something.”

The Saints lost their first game of the season on Saturday night, but Evans said the atmosphere surrounding the team continued to be jubilant.

“We’ve already won in the sense that you still have this outpouring inspirational moment in the community,” he said.

“Are we disappointed? Yes. But therein comes the hope and the desire that we will make it to the Super Bowl.”
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