"A celebration of concentrated wealth."
That's what Washington Post sportswriter Tony Kornheiser called the National
Football League's two-week long pre-Super Bowl party binge. Every Super Bowl
Sunday, corporate executives and politicians exchange besotted, sodden backslaps,
amidst an atmosphere that would shame Jack Abramoff. Only this year the bacchanalia
-- complete with ice sculptures peeing Grey Goose vodka and two tons of frozen
lobster flown directly to the stadium -- is happening in the United States'
most impoverished, ravaged city: Detroit. Detroit's power elites in government
and the auto industry are rolling out the red carpet while many of its people
shiver in fraying rags. This contrast between the party atmosphere and abject
urban suffering has been so stark, so shocking and so utterly revealing that
news coverage on the city's plight has appeared in the sports pages of the New
York Times and Detroit Free Press, among others.
Only a Bush speechwriter couldn't notice the gritty backdrop while limos clog
the streets and escort services are flying in female reinforcements like so
much shellfish. Detroit -- and there is no soft way to put this -- is a city
on the edge of the abyss. Its 2005 unemployment rate was 14.1 percent, more
than two and a half times the national level. Its population has plummeted since
the 1950s from over two million to fewer than 900,000, and more than one-third
of its residents live under the poverty line, the highest rate in the nation.
In addition, the city has in the past year axed hundreds of municipal employees,
cut bus and garbage services, and boarded up nine recreation centers. As the
Associated Press wrote, "Much of the rest of Detroit is a landscape dotted
with burned-out buildings, where liquor stores abound but supermarkets are hard
to come by, and where drugs, violence and unemployment are everyday realities."
Ryan Anderson of Detroit, wrote me a chilling email saying, "The mood is
one of Orwellian-flavored siege: dire warnings of a 30-day police speeding ticket
bonanza, designed to raise $1 million for the construction of a damn bridge welcoming
out-of-towners to the Motor City; the mayor, the governor, and every other notable
on the radio urging us all to 'show 'em what we got' [read: Don't further sully
our already bad reputation]; and the homeless being taken to a three-day 'Superbowl
Party,' where they'll get the actual food and shelter they need until the big
game's over, after which they'll be kicked back out on the streets. Welcome to
the Poorest City in America, sponsored and enabled by lily-white Oakland County."
Anita Cerf, a teacher in Detroit also wrote to me, "I am appalled by the
living conditions of its residents as contrasted with the hype for the Super
Bowl and the fancying up of downtown for all the rich out-of-town guests. I
live on the East Side, which probably has one of the highest poverty rates in
the country, and I teach high school dropouts on the Southwest Side. My students
have horrific problems, many of which stem from these economic and social conditions.
Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press described the shelter, called the Detroit
Rescue Mission, throwing the "three day party" to cleanse homeless
people from the city's landscape. As Albom wrote, "Lines formed before
sunset, dozens of men in dirty sweatshirts, old coats, worn-out shoes. They
had to line up in an alley, because, [the shelter's director says], the city
doesn't want lines of homeless folks visible from the street. Even at a shelter,
they have to go in the back door."
But these days Detroit is dealing with more than normal tough times. While
the Super Bowl is played at Ford Field, the Ford family announced last week
that it would eliminate up to 30,000 jobs and close 14 plants in the next six
years. The cuts mean it's the unemployment line, and maybe Albom's shelter,
for about a third of the 87,000 Ford workers who are members of the United Auto
For a city that built a stable "middle class" out of union struggle
and the auto plants, this is injury added to insult. But have no fear. NORAD,
the North American Aerospace Defense Command, will be flying sorties over Ford
Field to protect everyone from terrorist missile attacks. There is no NORAD
however on the streets of Detroit to protect people from Operation Enduring
Class War otherwise known as the Super Bowl. (If instead of betting on the big
game, you want to give to the Detroit Rescue Mission, call 313-993-4700 or send
a check to Detroit Rescue Mission, 150 Stimson, Detroit, MI 48201.)
Dave Zirin's new book "What's
My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States" is published
by Haymarket Books. Check out his revamped website edgeofsports.com.
You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing
Contact him at email@example.com.