For thousands of years, sport has been an outlet of free-spirited play and expression. Competition allows players, patrons, fans, observers and opponents to cheer and roar with great pride, and together the synergies of their cries provide great strength and voice to thousands, whose voice alone might otherwise be just a mere whisper. Growing up as an athlete, I realized quite early, that indeed it does not matter the outcome of the competition. The victory, rather, is in the gathering itself. From the field to the stands, to the couches on the other side of the TV, athletic competitions unite hundreds, thousands and often millions; forming a community that transcends across racial, gender, ethnic and religious barriers.
This union and bond, paves way for the grandest of all of sport's amazement: the opportunity to escape into a moment, where our worries of future and pains of the past, are quieted by the joy of the game. A Zen, if you will, and perpetual chance to be born again, into the now, of every moment. It is why, as an athlete, we play; as a fan, we cheer.
Each day, each competition, each swing, each shot, each quarter, period, and half is a new opportunity for rebirth and progress, and inevitable progress.
The same can be said of our New Orleans. For hundreds of years, New Orleans has been an outlet of free-spirited play and expression. Where music, art, food and drink allow patrons from all over to cheer in life's exuberance, where together for perhaps just brief moments, the synergies of the swirling carousel of celebrations allows exuberance to those whose voice alone might otherwise feel just a mere whisper. Sport and New Orleans are one in the same: hope and faith, presence and courage. The pillars that bind community, are that the tenants of athletic competition. The chance for rebirth and renewal, exist in New Orleans and sport alike. Teamwork, at its simplest form, relies on these same synergies and faith in one another; when a player has an off day, the others provide backup. Nearly seven years ago in August, New Orleans had an off-day, and sport, has proven to be just the teammate New Orleans needed, and will continue to need, for its rally and continual rebirth. As a child of sport, I am undeniably proud and grateful of these lessons, and moreover, as a child of New Orleans, I am equally, and unequivocally grateful for the community and rebirth, and true teamwork that sport provides our great city.
In 2012 already, New Orleans has hosted the 78th Annual Sugar Bowl, NFL Playoff Games, BCS National Championship, Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament, and NCAA Men's Final Four Basketball Championship, bringing an estimated $535 million economic impact to the city, through sold out hotels, packed restaurants, record profits at the casino, and local attractions. The tax dollar revenue from this surge generates another wave of tremendous opportunity for major infrastructural and educational improvements in the city, in the first quarter alone. The trend continues well throughout the year and next, with major highlights of the NCAA Women's Final Four and NFL Super Bowl in 2013. The tally raises New Orleans to a title that no other city has hosted such series of high-profile events within an 18-month period, and furthermore establishes our city as one of the best, to audiences across the globe, paving way to more events to come.
The implications of sporting events and tourism extend far beyond generated revenue and tax dollars; the significance of sport lies in its creation and opportunity that do not otherwise exist in New Orleans. The NCAA Men's Final Four, for instance, also staged free concerts including major headliners like The Black Keys and The Avett Brothers, giving financial opportunity for New Orleans to reveal its expertise and allure to popular bands, while extending free sounds that elsewhere cost hundreds of dollars.
So far, the roster includes: international exposure and press to the art and culture of the city, tax dollars for infrastructure and education, tourism-generated revenue and music. Let's add a fifth player, shall we? Community outreach programs. Off the cuff, organizations like the NFL, NORD, Devlin Institute, Girls First and the Drew Brees Dream Foundation all demonstrate the unrelenting commitment to community that resides in the heart of sport. This relationship delves even further into that of equal opportunity and gender equality. At the age of 12, I sincerely believed it within my reach to be the female equivalent of Michael Jordan, and this unshakable idea of opportunity gave me great joy with every dribbling exercise I performed on my steps, and to my mother's disapproval, on the walls of my bedroom. This faith existed in a time where the Women's NBA did not even exist. Now it does. Again, like the lessons learned above, my failure to rise to the talent levels of Michael Jordan are irrelevant, but the confidence and sincere faith, provided by the opportunity and my participation in sport, have paved way for great strength and made resounding impacts in my life. That's the victory. This is the same victory that sport now offers New Orleans: opportunity to participate and infiltrate the city, our youth, with these same great strengths. In addition to safety, education, and scholarship, sport brings our community intangibles of discipline, play, spirit and hope.
Five keys players. That would, in most cities, provide a full lineup. However, this is New Orleans, where a little lagniappe goes a long way, which brings me to our last addition to the roster: change. Admittedly a frightening word to many, change seems to bring much resistance to those of our city. To be fair, however, there is much that we hold precious and need to protect from greed; exploitation that often comes masked as change or progress. Yet, Katrina left us with no option, but to change. Movements began at individual levels, rebuilding streets one at time, citizens donating a bit more generously, and living with a bit more gratitude. This individual faith bred a grassroots change, of free-spirited entrepreneurship and creativity.
The origin of these changes, were that of sincere progress and rebirth, and, of course, sport. Charter schools were rebuilt by sports teams at local universities, small businesses opened and were funded by community kickball fundraisers, and large-scale facilities improvements have provided thousands with employment, and the chance to return home.
I vote, Olympics in 2024. We can do it: just a few basic sport fundamentals of discipline, confidence, faith and perseverance, and a little lagniappe of doing it, our very own way. Working on the advertisement now… In the meantime, thank you, dear sport, for giving us the strength, discipline, and support needed to rebuild this great city.
And as we did, through the perseverance of sport, our Saints will prevail once more.