William Shakespeare wrote a line you may have heard before:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!John Kass of the Chicago Tribune wrote a line you are most likely hearing for the first time today:
People of New Orleans, lend me your ears.Both men hoped for the line to ignite a rhetorical flourish meant to turn the tide of public opinion around, to make roundly vilified a subject who before was wholly venerated. By the time the unbiased reader finishes Kass’ article “Love the city, mourn the football team,” he or she will conclude that the author from Chicago has not the rhetorical mastery of a Marc Anthony, the character who uttered the famous speech from which Kass’ inspiration is drawn, nor the writing genius of a Shakespeare.
In Marc Antony’s speech in “Julius Caesar,” Shakespeare follows his famous first line with an adept display of irony:
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.It is irony, because Antony’s intent is exactly the opposite. He shall praise Caesar in such a way that, by the end of his speech, the mob he was addressing has turned their anger away from Caesar towards Brutus, who just before the speech they were willing to crown the next Caesar.
Kass’ first-line/second-line combination doesn’t have quite the same punch:
People of New Orleans, lend me your ears.It’s all downhill from there.
We are not your sponge.
A football is an oval hunk of leather. And large, fast and supremely violent men catch it and run with it as others try to smash them to the ground.Um, no. I don’t get it. Please give me more examples.
But a sponge is porous and soft, often pink, or yellow, belonging in a sink or the tub. There is no violence in a sponge. A sponge is designed to sop up unwanted water.
And New Orleans, please understand this: We like you guys. But we're not your sponge.
Chicago is not your paper towel, either, or your Shop-Vac or your spaghetti mop or your squeegee.Oh, wait. Now I get it. The honorable Mr. Kass thinks we New Orleanians beleive that beating the Chicago Bears will finally rid us of that flood of ours.
So no matter what happens Sunday in the NFC championship game between the Bears and the Saints, it has nothing to do with that flood of yours.
We're not sopping up your water.
Do you think Mr. Kass knows that our streets are no longer flooded and that, since our pumps kicked in September of ’05 and helped finish the Army Corps of Engineers’ job, we haven’t needed a sponge, paper towel, Shop-Vac, spaghetti mop, or squeegee to sop up Katrina’s waters?
Or do you think he is a little confused by the endless use of “file video” on CNN showing the streets of New Orleans underwater? That’s okay. I can see how an honorable man can overlook this small fact.
What follows is, I think, Mr. Kass’ point:
This is football.Yes, it is. And I, for one, am glad that Mr. Kass pointed that out to us New Orleanians. I am now satisfied that I leant my ear.
This is football, where what happens off the field never affects play on the field.
This is football, where motivation acquired before a game never helps during a game.
This is football, where a victory is just one more check in the win column.
This is football. It is just a game.
What about the game?
"That's all anyone wants to talk about, Hurricane Katrina and the flood and how if the Saints win this game, it'll help New Orleans," said my friend Dave Kaplan, the WGN-AM sports talk show host who has been doing interviews with his counterparts in other cities about Sunday's game.Mr. Kass’ honorable friend is amazed how his counterparts from other cities talk about Katrina when addressing Sunday’s game. Don’t they know this is football? Or maybe they know something the honorable men of Chicago don’t know, something we know down here in New Orleans. It’s still Katrina this and Katrina that.
"It's Katrina this and Katrina that," Kaplan said, shrugging.
It makes me sick, I said.
"Me too," Kaplan said, who has issues with New Orleans that I'll reveal later. "What does Katrina have to do with football?"
Mr. Kass and his friend should come down and visit. Go for a ride. I am sure it will make him sick. It doesn’t even have to be in the flooded areas, although that would give them the best perspective. They can simply drive down St. Charles and count the many traffic lights that are either blinking or completely out with temporary stop signs in use, while noting the absence of the picturesque streetcar. Sure, that’s minor in comparison to a flooded out neighborhood. But it’s still Katrina this and Katrina that.
Eh, who needs perspective. This is football.
All of us felt terrible about Katrina and the flood. Even Kaplan. And we hold no animosity for a great city that has endured so much.This manipulation of his audience is a little more obvious than that of Marc Antony’s in “Julius Caesar.” It is a worthy cause to attempt to portray your side in a contest as the victims of the big bad media. It could provide some of that off-the-field-motivation that football is supposedly not about.
What drives us crazy is the blabbermouth national media, projecting their own desires in their stories, putting the Saints on the side of the angels, and the Bears on the side of Katrina. If they were political writers, they'd be card carrying Obamamaniacs.
Even our future president, Sen. Barack Obama, has the guts to publicly say he wants the Bears to whip Saint behind on Sunday.
However, when the media extols the virtues of a team like the Saints, it is not, therefore, condemning as demonic the Saints' opponents. Two good and virtuous teams can play each other in the NFL. This is, after all, the number one seeded team versus the number two seeded team in the NFC - the two best teams. The Saints just have more story lines for the media to pursue.
But don’t feel hurt, honorable men. This is football.
"More Than Football," cooed Sports Illustrated on its cover last week. "Drew Brees and the Saints lift the city of New Orleans to higher ground."The novelty of this article is wearing out. Yes, parts of New Orleans are below sea level. But 80 percent of New Orleans did not flood because parts of the city are below sea level, nor due to the error of a “ridiculous Frenchman.” New Orleans flooded because of a “design failure” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Oh, I get it. If the Bears lose, New Orleans will rise above the place where it now sits, below sea level, where some ridiculous Frenchman put it, ignoring the warnings of his engineers.
And the honorable men of Chicago should be careful when disparaging the French, for none other than the Father of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, was half French. And how did Point Du Sable get to Illinois? Through connections he made at the Port of New Orleans, of course!
Back to the article:
It ends Sunday, unless the unthinkable happens and the Bears lose. Then Indianapolis or New England can be cast as the Great Satan. Or is that The Great Sponge?Again with the sponge?
The next part is has nothing to do with anything. I am surprised it got past the editors.
Finally, the honorable Mr. Kass tells us why his honorable friend Mr. Kaplan has “issues” with New Orleans:
Which brings me back to Kaplan and his strained relationship with New Orleans, which started when he was engaged to a woman from that town.The honorable Mr. Kaplan sure sounds like the likeable guy he professes to be. It’s a darn shame he didn’t marry that New Orleanian and stick around.
"I was staying overnight at their place, and got up late to hit the fridge for some food, and here comes my almost future mother-in-law. She hates me. And she's silent. She doesn't say a word.
"So I figure, the heck with this, I approach her and say, `I'm a likable guy. I get along with just about everybody. What's your problem with me? Is it because I'm Jewish?
"She said `No, it's because you're taking my daughter away, you Yankee!'
"I finally had enough of her, and I tell her, `That's right. I'm a Yankee, and guess what? We kicked your butts 150 years ago and we could do it again.'
"And the next morning, I broke up with my fiance and left and that was it," Kaplan said, with a big smile.
We kicked their butts 150 years ago. And Katrina or no Katrina, the Bears will kick some again on Sunday.
The Civil War reference is revealing. If anyone needs more evidence of how the rest of America considers and treats New Orleans like another country or some other part of the world, look no further than a couple of honorable Chicagoans agreeing with “We kicked your butts 150 years ago and we could do it again.” I can’t wait to see that sign in the crowd on Sunday: “The North Shall Kick Your Butts Again!”
The title of this article, “Love the city, mourn the football team,” recalls the seminal moment of Marc Antony’s speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral when he effectively turns his audience's negative opinions against Caesar to negative opinions against Caesar’s (and Marc Antony’s) enemy Brutus:
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,If John Kass’ intention was to turn the public’s positive opinion of the Saints to a positive opinion of the Bears, he has failed in every way possible. He ridiculed the personal and shared tragedy of so many New Orleanians (We are not your sponge.), minimized the importance of this game to the people of New Orleans ("What does Katrina have to do with football?" Nothing.), insulted the city in general implying its residents are stupid for living there (Oh, I get it. If the Bears lose, New Orleans will rise above the place where it now sits, below sea level, where some ridiculous Frenchman put it, ignoring the warnings of his engineers.), and glorified a deadly and humiliating period of our history that the South is still recovering from and that Chicago greatly benefited from (“We kicked your butts 150 years ago and we could do it again.”).
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause;
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
Shakespeare, he is not.
Win or lose, the Saints have already won the equivalent of the Super Bowl for New Orleans. They will receive a hero’s welcome no matter what the outcome of Sunday’s game.
This, honorable Mr. Kass, is football.