It is difficult to think of a more stirring example of community mobilization behind a worthwhile cause than the effort to keep the Raiders professional football team in Los Angeles.
Other cities have been bidding for the services of the Raiders, but no one has matched Los Angeles in combining civic spirit and megadollars for a purpose of transcendent importance. Once it was recognized that team owner Al Davis was dickering for a new home for the Raiders, the citizens of Los Angeles moved into high gear. They came up with plans to build a new stadium, a cash incentive of $60 million or more, depending on who's talking, and other added attractions. It was a superb example of what a community can do when confronted by massive challenge.
In my rejoicing over this display of community responsibility and resourcefulness, I am confronted with a slight nagging thought, and I wonder whether my neighbors may be similarly troubled: How is it that, in all the feverish activity to provide a home for the Raiders, we have shown no comparable burst of imagination, ingenuity and initiative in providing homes for our homeless?
We must not, of course, minimize the difficulties involved in furnishing shelter for people who, for one reason or another, find themselves on the streets. After all, a human rescue operation is an enormously complicated business. First of all, buildings must be found or constructed. Beds and blankets must be provided. Equally troublesome, of course, is that people have to be fed. Moreover, a considerable number of the homeless have children. Anyone who has attempted to hold even a single youngster at bay knows what it must be like to care for thousands of children.
It is possible, of course, that the people and agencies of Los Angeles who leaped into action when they thought the Raiders would find a home elsewhere have not been given the opportunity to show the same compassionate ingenuity for the homeless of their city. More serious still, perhaps they have not even been informed of the deprivations confronting some of their fellow citizens. If such is indeed the case, then an evening tour can be arranged for almost any neighborhood, and the human beings of all ages who are sleeping in doorways or storefronts can be pointed out.
Once the fact of such a problem becomes known to the movers and shakers of our city, is it not likely that at least $60 million and the housing equivalent of a new sports stadium will become a glorious prospect? Perhaps the awareness of profound human needs will touch off at least as much civic spirit as the highly touted and still-theoretical homelessness of padded young men who bang into one another on artificial turf.
What we need, of course, is an Al Davis who can do for the Los Angeles homeless what he has done so successfully for his physically prepossessing young men. Davis, perhaps to an extent unmatched by anyone in modern urban history, has managed to pluck the chords of mercy and community pride, not just in Los Angeles but in Oakland, Sacramento and elsewhere. He has demonstrated a remarkable ability to generate a collective will to solve seemingly insoluble problems.
No one cherishes the feelings of discomfort produced by walking past hungry fellow citizens in the streets who have no place to spend the night. Davis, or someone else with his brilliant chutzpah, might be able to come up with a plan for liberating us from these unpleasant feelings.
Irony and nonsense aside, it is manifestly true that professional sports are unifying forces in their communities. It is doubtful, in fact, whether the various social organizations seeking to improve racial relations are as effective in this respect as professional sports teams. No one doubts that these teams produce a common focus of civic involvement and identification. Perhaps it is not too much to expect that Los Angeles will become at least as passionate and prideful in overcoming problems of homelessness, hunger and educational deprivation as it is in making life congenial for the Raiders.
Finally, it isn't as though the people of Los Angeles would be in a state of perilous desolation if the Raiders should find a home elsewhere. We still have the Rams (albeit in Anaheim), whose recent performances against the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants have created the kind of community elation comparable only to the effect of a new tax rebate. And there is always the consoling prospect that if the Raiders do move, Mr. Davis will move with them.