MARINE: Saints, Hornets help New Orleans cope

Corey Marine

It has been over four years since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and devastated the greater New Orleans area. The images of broken levies, flooded streets and a crowded Louisiana Superdome are still fresh in people’s minds. No one has forgotten about the mismanagement of the situation leading to a lack of critical support. It has been four years, but the city is still recuperating from the devastating blow it was dealt. However, there has been a shining light for the city that has helped the city forget about its dark times and gave the people of New Orleans reason to celebrate.

For many people across the nation, a sport provides an emotional outlet and an escape from reality in the Big Easy. However, when many sports fans nationwide watch the Saints or the Hornets play, they cannot help but cheer for New Orleans. There is a feeling that a win on the hardwood or on the football field is not just a victory for the team but the city as a whole. The sport transcends itself and brings an entire region together. It is only appropriate that two superstars like Drew Brees and Chris Paul, who have demonstrated class on and off the field of play and are dedicated to their city, have become the sports figureheads for the city.

The relationship between New Orleans and Drew Brees has been picture perfect from the start. Brees was a proven quarterback recovering from arthroscopic surgery, looking forward to the 2006 season. The San Diego Chargers gave him the impression that they would resign him and wanted him to be their franchise quarterback. However, during contract negotiations, the Chargers displayed a lack of confidence in Brees’ ability to stay on the field by including health-related incentives in the contract. The quarterback took this as a passive way of being pushed aside, and, for the most part, the media agreed he was unjustly swept to the curb. The Chargers were ready to move on and wanted first-round draft pick Phillip Rivers at the helm.

Brees needed a team to take a risk on him, and the Saints did just that. They penned him to a six-year deal; a deal of this length symbolized the type of faith they had in him. Their confidence in Brees was rewarded. In 2006, he led the league in passing yards. In 2007, he attempted and completed the most passes in the NFL, finishing third in passing percentage. Brees fell short of breaking Dan Marino’s record for the most passing yards in a single season, tied Rich Gannon’s record of 10 games with 300 or more passing yards and tied for the league best with 34 touchdown passes, earning him Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Off of the field, the Saints superstar has been equally as impressive. He has visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Okinawa and has several philanthropic projects in New Orleans. The Brees Dream Foundation specializes in raising money for cancer research and children’s education. He has helped financially support a children’s hospital in New Orleans, hosts a golf tournament where the money is donated toward causes for the betterment of young people’s lives and has helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity.

Brees’ basketball counterpart has equally impressive athletic- and service-related résumés. Chris Paul was voted as the NBA Rookie of the Year in the 2005-’06 season, is a two-time All Star, has the NBA record of most consecutive games with a steal and helped bring a gold medal back to U.S. basketball, all before the age of 25.

In 2006, Paul and a teammate gave away 100 bicycles to less fortunate children throughout the New Orleans and Oklahoma City areas during the holiday season. In 2007, he donated over 1,000 turkeys to families in New Orleans. This September, he received the NBA’s Community Assist Award for his service efforts in his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

In the current age of sports, star athletes are often portrayed as overpaid and selfish, while not enough is said about how they positively affect their communities. Brees and Paul are shining examples of all that is good with professional sports. They have poured themselves into the New Orleans community, and in return, the Big Easy has embraced them.

With men as classy as these two, it is hard to cheer against the Saints and Hornets. New Orleans is the city America loves to love.

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Corey Marine is a senior communication major from New York City. He can be reached at [email protected]