Without a lot of real context to what was going on here — other than trusting an ESPN press release and a few photos — my blog post last week prior to the airing of Sunday’s “Life on the Streets” piece involving the St. Louis Rams’ Chris Long and William Hayes had many concerns about the intent and end-game for two NFL players pretending to be homeless and mixing it up with a community that may not take well to their “experiment.”
My opinion completely needs a re-write after having watched the nearly seven-minute story, as well as read the accompanying piece by ESPN.com’s Elizabeth Merrill (with the video included).
Yes, the “power of sports,” even as an advertised slogan for a series, can work. Here’s why:
The story was not about a game these two were playing.
“I wonder if we could handle that,” Hayes once told Long as they were on a bus and passed by a homeless encampment.
I’ve wondered that plenty of times myself. I doubt I could. My mind would break down quickly. My will to survive would be crushed. I could see myself not using the situation as motivation to move forward, but to accept this fate.
I’ve tried this, alone, just for an afternoon. It’s self-defeating. But its also a powerful awakening.
With more background, we learn that these two have been donating to a local St. Louis homeless shelter, and Long was almost embarrassed he had never visited it as much as Hayes did.
Long’s narrative was touching, crediting Hayes for shining the light on this and showing empathy. You need a teammate to bring you along. It’s a tough go alone.
Bravely, Long and Hayes had not only the desire to go try it, if only for 24 hours, but come away with an action that spoke louder than their words — finding some temporary housing for a man and a woman who just needed to try to get their dignity back.
Yes, they did have an escape plan if things went wrong. They weren’t stupid. They also had the prep with the social worker who ran the shelter. She was with them the whole way.
Despite preconceived concerns, this finished product can definitely be not just a starting point, but a call to action. That if it takes these two men in the sports world to step up and do something that puts a voice and face on something so tragic, something that most take so much for granted, we’ll back it 100 percent.
There’s a famous quote attributed to The Catholic Worker saint Dorothy Day (even if she may have never said it):
“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”
If Long and Hayes accepted it before in some way, or accepted the idea that their donations were a great place to start but really that’s all they could do, then they just raised the bar on awareness about a system that’s not just broken, but can be fixed if enough raise their hand.
If only we knew more before we went and wrote that first post. Maybe it’s like looking at a homeless person on the street and making a judgment without having all the facts, or circumstances, or thoughts of some redemption. You have to ask politely if you can share the space, talk to those hurting, and find out what they need, not just what you think they need to “fix” it. Long and Hayes did that.
A huge thumbs up to not only putting their NFL paychecks to a worthy cause, but causing the rest of us to think harder about what we can do as well.
Do you think you live in an area without a homeless issue? It’s not just downtown. The homeless count is rising. Shelters aren’t there. More transitional housing is going away.
Locally, there are groups trying to help. Check out Family Promise, for one. The South Bay Coalition to end Homelessness. The San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission.
Learn about how things work. Give your time. Be in the moment.
Should the former L.A. Rams relocate back to the City of Angels, and Long and Hayes comes along for the ride, we’d love to be there to help take a tour of Skid Row, meet the people and listen to their cries for help.
Hell yeah! https://t.co/SGmDTREujw
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) June 1, 2015