It's as predictable as a zone blitz on third down and seven. Right before a major sporting event unfolds, homeless individuals in the host city are relocated away from tourist areas likely to appear on TV. Police sweep through - as was the case in San Francisco before the Super Bowl - and homelessness is swept under the rug or criminalized if homeless people refuse to cooperate. Negative headlines follow when those already suffering are thrown into jail.
We've seen this so many times before, you'd think multi-billion dollar sports leagues would engage directly in solutions to end homelessness instead of appearing aloof or insensitive as the problem is pushed off screen.
To be fair, the NFL has a laudable history of supporting the United Way and some agencies under that large umbrella do serve homeless individuals and families. But given the mass resources and star power of the leagues and their reach into the homes of millions of Americans, a greater commitment seems in order.
The NFL, MLB, NBA, etc., did not create the dynamics behind homelessness and their primary missions do not rest on providing social services. But they are huge players in communities and should care about improving the lives of very vulnerable people in places where their personnel work and live.
Also, the wealthy owners of sports teams often rely on local taxpayers to foot some of the bill when new stadiums are constructed. Resources that otherwise could be dedicated to creating affordable housing or providing more community-based services to end homelessness.
For the NFL at least, the argument to do more goes beyond their vast treasury. The teams, owners, players and league officials have powerful voices and are listened to in community halls and the halls of Congress. They could have a tremendous impact on the national dialogue to end homelessness.
And members of the NFL family have experienced homelessness and know first-hand the trauma that goes along with it.
Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens was once homeless. James Jones of the Packers lived with his mom in various homeless shelters as he was growing up. Terry Tautolo, the former NFL linebacker who won his first Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers, was found living in a tunnel under a Los Angeles freeway after he retired from football.
Because I lead an organization that works hard to advance solutions ending homelessness, I clearly have skin in this game. But so, too, does the NFL and other sports leagues.
Until they do more to get behind effective efforts to move people out of homelessness, rather than across town, the leagues, teams and owners can expect headlines tarnishing their image, leaving many of us with the impression that the consequences of their events are anything but super.
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