While natural disasters are uncontrollable, sports leaders can use their leverage to set an example and inspire others to help.
Aiding members of the community who are suffering is the right thing to do, but it is also good business. During times of crisis, a league, team or individual athlete who gives back demonstrates that they care about the people who have supported them so passionately.
No example typifies the unity between a sports team and its fan base better than the relationship between the New Orleans Saints and its "Who Dat Nation" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
With much of the city underwater and heartbreaking images shown across the country, members of the Saints were involved first hand in recovery efforts.
The Saints themselves were impacted as they were not able to play any home games in the Superdome for the entire 2005 NFL season. Their first home game, scheduled for September 18 against the New York Giants, was moved to Giants Stadium.
Other home contests were split between LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, about 80 miles from New Orleans, and the Alamodome in San Antonio, some 540 miles from the Crescent City. The Saints practiced in San Antonio and even considered permanently relocating there.
The NFL had feared that New Orleans might not fully recover from Katrina. In December 2005, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue met with the team and city officials to tour and assess the viability of playing at the Superdome in 2006.
On January 11, 2006, Tagliabue announced that the Saints would likely play all eight of their home games at the Superdome, which was refurbished with the help of $300 million in funds from FEMA, the state of Louisiana and the NFL.
Despite their hardships and the team's 3-13 record in 2005, Saints fans bought tickets to their team's home games partly as a matter of civic pride.
Any Saints player or coach will tell you they were blown away by the raw emotion and kinetic energy at home games throughout the 2006 season.
Free agent quarterback Drew Brees brought his game to a higher level, while Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick Reggie Bush energized the rushing game. New Orleans went on to win the Super Bowl that season.
The victory meant much to the players and fans, but also to the team owners. Recently, Forbes Magazine released its annual ranking of NFL franchises by value. The Saints checked in at No. 21 with an estimated value of $955 million, up significantly from the team's pre-Katrina value of $718 million.
A Super Bowl title, two NFC championship game appearances, and five consecutive years of sellouts resulted in a 33 percent increase to the franchise's overall value.
It's clear the Saints are healthier financially than they've ever been.
There are other fine examples of teams bonding with their healing communities.
After 9/11, New York Mets and Yankees players visited rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zero to lift their spirits. In return, the Yankees captivated the city with their dramatic comebacks in the 2001 World Series, which they ultimately lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In October 2003, Southern California experienced a horrific series of fires that ravaged more than 750 thousand acres and caused $2 billion in property damages.
Despite a scheduled game with the Miami Dolphins, the San Diego Chargers offered their stadium for refuge to citizens who were forced to evacuate; their scheduled game was moved to Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium. Furthermore, the Alex Spanos Family and the Chargers donated $1 million to the San Diego Foundation After-the-Fire Fund, while the Arizona Cardinals and NFL Charities donated approximately $250,000 to the cause.
So often, we have seen teams step up the help their local communities.
It continues today. The Jets and Giants have both donated $500,000 to help victims of Hurricane Sandy's destruction, as have the Yankees and Mets.
MLB, the NFL and NBA have combined to donate millions, and numerous current and former players, including CC Sabathia and David Cone, who guest bartended at New York's famous baseball bar, Foley's, have organized fundraisers on their own for Sandy relief efforts.
Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy, New York Jets President Neil Glat, and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. Earlier in his career, Jed coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.
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