The eyes of the college basketball world will be on Ford Field in Detroit tonight as "hometown" team Michigan State takes on North Carolina for the 2009 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. If you believe the media, the game is an emotional center for the United States.
Not only is it taking place in one of the most economically blighted cities of the country, it features a local team that the whole country is rooting for because of the symbolism of overcoming adversity.
Christine Brennan of USA Today writes in a column today:
Every so often, a sports story finds a collective emotional need and does its best to fill it. The New York Yankees' presence in the 2001 World Series symbolized the nation's attempt to recover from the Sept. 11 attacks. The New Orleans Saints gave their city a bounce in its step after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
There obviously has not been the tragic loss of life in Detroit that there was on Sept. 11 or during Katrina, but it's the loss of so many livelihoods, and life as America once knew it, that makes the Spartans' run to the national championship every bit as compelling.
But Michigan State is not the New York Yankees. People cannot and do not "relate" to Detroit like they do to New Orleans. This is ironic of course because even before Katrina, once you stepped beyond the boundaries and mystique of the French Quarter, you were in areas you did not want to be in. Some years ago, a probation officer for the United States Courts system told this writer that the housing projects of New Orleans were the worst of the worst, and some of the scariest places he had ever worked.
So that brings us back to Detroit and tonight's game. Are people in the stands bleeding green and white because they are the home team? This is likely the case. But what about the television and radio audiences? Are they really rallying behind Michigan State and Detroit because of the economic crisis? Or are they rallying behind Michigan State because they are the underdog against a hated North Carolina team?
I lost my full-time job job last month when the economic downturn drove our business into the gutter. Will watching the game tonight give my family and me a much needed emotional lift? Not only is the answer no, but an emphatic no. Why? Because when I wake up in the morning, I will still be looking for work and the game will have had no meaning beyond what is was: a basketball game.
Almost eight years after 9-11, this country is in disarray, disunity, and dysfunction. Any rally after the Yankee's World Series appearance is long gone. After Katrina, New Orleans is still a flooded out shell with people, especially the working poor desperate to rebuild what they once had. Does anybody else in the country really care? The sad reality is no, because people exist in a world of sensationalism, sound bites, and self-interest.
The people of the country cannot relate to the woes of Detroit, at least not yet. They cannot understand the devastation that city has experienced unless they have experienced it themselves. And a basketball game is not going to change that, no matter what the mainstream media says or thinks.
Blue-collar team hopes to boost blue-collar city (Christine Brennan in USA Today)
Is Michigan State Run Good For State Of Michigan? (Darren Rovell on CNBC)
Michigan State Story Not What It Seems? (Darren Rovell on CNBC)
This was originally published on Eye on Sports Media on April 6, 2009.