by Bert Bartlett
Only an avid Saints fan would remember Bivian Lee. He was a defensive back for New Orleans from 1971 -’75. The third round draft pick, from Prairie View A & M University in Texas was a typical Saint from that era, when the players were known more for the amusing cacophony of their names (Jubilee Dunbar was a teammate in ‘73) rather than their on the field exploits, though #11 did intercept 18 passes when he was here. Tragically, he died of a heart attack at age 36.
His son, Bivian III, “Sonny”, age 29, has started the Son Of A Saint Sports Foundation, which funds fatherless male kids aged 9-13 in their sports related activities, and more importantly, life skills. The kids in the program attend mentor sessions two Saturdays a month at the University of New Orleans. The topics include anger management, educational success, responsibility, and proper etiquette (!). Goals are to teach the kids accountability, foster a positive male relationship outside of the home, enhance self-respect and self-esteem, and to improve academic retention and graduation rates; to help them become responsible citizens.
Using sports to steer kids in a better direction is hardly a novel idea, but this new non-profit zooms in on a problem demographic long indigenous to New Orleans: the fatherless kid. Many of them grow up in poor, neglected neighborhoods, where the only upward mobility they see are new cars with mag wheels, driven by pushers, pimps, and armed robbers wearing gold chains. Not surprisingly, many of these kids end up committing many of the violent crimes in the city, and have been in and out of the city’s decrepit jail system on a habitual basis.
The inordinately high levels of violent crime in New Orleans relative to its population is hardly a secret, particularly to natives, but still remains something of an elephant in the room. During one particularly swift murder wave earlier this year, Drew Brees went on television and remarked, “I really wish the people in New Orleans would stop killing each other”. Hurricane Katrina’s population loss did not lessen the problem, relatively speaking. The Tourist Commission doesn’t ignore it, but has to grit its teeth on the matter. And at City Hall, the latest mayoral administration, police chief, and district attorney have addressed the topic for decades when taking office, only to stay systematically stuck on the symptoms rather than be in position to negate the causes.
There are some gangs in New Orleans, but the violent crime profile in the city has always been more random and senseless perhaps, than in other urban centers. And alarmingly frequent. Violent crime here does not discriminate by neighborhood or time of day.
Residents have become used to picking up the paper or watching TV for the latest report on, say, the conventioneer from the midwest who walked the wrong way in the Quarter, only for his visit here to end by being shipped home in a body bag. Or some weekend visitor from the region who left a bar downtown and was now being searched for by a boat with nets combing the bottom of Ole’ Man River. Or the woman uptown, who found herself staring down the barrel of a .38 outside of her home, in broad daylight, after makin’ groceries. Or the female student who was walking in the University Section, minding her own business, only to be viciously raped, and left with a life altering experience, if she was even left alive at all.
Authorities have been known to park their patrol cars on the shoulder of the interstate in New Orleans East and let dogs out to search the weeds for dead bodies. When he coached the Saints, Jim Mora and his wife Connie were robbed at gunpoint one evening outside their home in Jefferson Parish. The close call left the former head coach more shook up than any playoff loss ever did.
One night, a woman in the lower Quarter was walking her dog and berated her attacker for having the nerve to commit a crime upon her person, only to wind up lifeless in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. A Good Samaritan near Fauborg Marigny answered her banging door at something like 5 in the morning, thinking somebody needed help. Minutes later, her partner was mourning her death. Frequently, the loot for a robbery that results in a murder is over something like a $5 bill. Sometimes, it is over nothing at all. Shockingly, and sadly, in a city that festivals itself with the value of human life, many of it’s violent criminals are raised with little regard for it, theirs or anyone else’s. In this vein, the moniker, The City That Care Forgot isn’t very palatable at all. Unfortunately in New Orleans, simply taking a walk, anywhere and anytime, can be a tempt of fate.
The numerous causes of the violent crime in New Orleans have long been deeply embedded in its subterranean soil, and are too extensive to delve into here, with race, poverty, the Stone Age tradition of the public school system, drug addiction, and the limited number of meaningful employers the typical culprits. But sordid, grisly crime remains a part of it’s landscape, and is as preponderant in it as the broody bellow of the smokestack of a ship meandering up the Mississippi in the middle of a hot summer night.
Which is why Sonny Lee’s Son Of A Saint new outfit offers some rays of hope about the future of the Crescent City, in that one kid at a time, one less violent crime at a time, is a game plan for victories. The wins would add up and far surpass any Super Bowl. And football players are only bit players on the team that matters in this particular contest.
The link to the Son Of A Saint Sports Foundation is below.