- Saints in the Broken City: Football, Fandom, and Urban Renewal in Post-Katrina New Orleans by Casey Schreiber
One of the most publicized images of the 2017 NFL opener was that of Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt defiantly waving the Texas flag as a sign of solidarity with the host city following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Displays such as this have become increasingly common as athletes and local teams have leveraged their cultural capital in rebuilding efforts following a natural disaster or terrorist attack. In this way, the experience of Houston and the Texans parallels that of New Orleans and the Saints in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which is the subject of Casey Schreiber's Saints in the Broken City: Football, Fandom, and Urban Renewal in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Schreiber's ethnographic study explains that Saints football and New Orleans post-Katrina provide a new means of understanding relationships between teams and cities aside from the usual analysis of sport's economic impact. Using interviews with local fans, newspaper articles, and social-science literature, Schreiber explores two themes that undergird her thesis: the Saints as a "cultural commodity" (164) whose Super Bowl win in 2010 reinforced a narrative [End Page 272] of urban renewal after Katrina. Folded into this argument is an examination of Saints fandom, Who Dat Nation, ties to which, according to Schreiber, increased sociability in the Crescent City. The result is a thoughtful and original book that at times splinters into separate studies yet will nevertheless resonate with sports scholars.
Schreiber offers an evocative and balanced account of the flooding of New Orleans and the role the Saints played in reviving the city's image as a tourist destination. Tens of thousands of residents sought shelter in the Superdome when Katrina hit land and the levees broke, pouring millions of gallons of water into a city that sits below sea level. Conditions in the Dome deteriorated quickly. One report depicted a hellish scene of "short tempers, unbearable heat, and the overwhelming stench of human waste" (32). The situation symbolized failure at the local, state, and federal levels. Over a million New Orleanians evacuated to cities such as Houston and San Antonio, where the Saints organization resumed operations and the team played three of its "home" games. City and state leaders lobbied for the Saints' return, believing that the team would be the fulcrum of post-Katrina recovery. Indeed, Schreiber documents how the Saints rallied fans' spirits. In one instance, a fan greeted star running back Deuce McAllister as he departed the team bus before the Saint's first game after the hurricane: "Deuce, Deuce, I lost everything. I don't have anything left but I have you" (36). While the Saints' first Super Bowl victory helped the city craft an uplifting message of revival, returning the team to New Orleans came at enormous public cost. Fittingly, Schreiber raises pointed questions about the hundreds of millions of dollars of government subsidies that rebuilt and currently underwrite the Superdome.
The second part of Schreiber's book is a somewhat uneven deconstruction of Who Dat Nation and the ways by which Saints fandom promoted social comity. In their passion for the Saints, fans have their own lexicon and codes of behavior, exchanging "Who Dat" to each other on the streets. Saints pride was ubiquitous throughout the city from floats at Mardi Gras to black-and-gold parasols. Being part of this subculture brought together a multiracial fan base. After the Saints' Super Bowl run, one of Schreiber's interviewees cautiously observed that joint fandom could momentarily suspend bias: "I saw Bourbon Street after the game and it was like seeing salt and pepper put together. It's not the end-all-be-all, but it's a good start" (105–6). The gendered nature of Saints' fandom also receives treatment, although here there is not the same rich testimonials that highlight sections...