Lions receiver Nate Burleson told USA Today Sports on Wednesday that he and his teammates feel a responsibility to lift the spirits of Detroit, which last month became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy.
"A lot of people might say, 'Man, it's tough playing in Detroit, man. You guys went bankrupt. Your city sucks. There's burned-down buildings, schools that are not even open.' But it's a great gift to bear that weight of the city, especially if you can deliver on a product that people want to see," he told USA Today.
Once the symbol of American industrial might, Detroit filed for bankruptcy July 18 with its finances ravaged and its neighborhoods hollowed out by a long, slow decline in population and auto manufacturing.
In the 1950s, Detroit's population grew to 1.8 million people, many of whom were lured by plentiful, well-paying auto jobs. Today, in the aftermath of the 2009 auto industry meltdown, the population struggles to stay above 700,000. The result is a metropolis where whole neighborhoods are practically deserted and basic services are cut off in places. Looming over the crumbling landscape is a budget deficit believed to be more than $380 million and long-term debt that could be as much as $20 billion.
Burleson pointed to what the Saints did to lift the spirits of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as an example of how a sports team can help to heal a city. The Saints, led by first-year coach Sean Payton, finished 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2006. The Saints had finished 3-13 the season before.
The Lions stumbled to a disappointing 4-12 record last season, but the team still managed to sell out each of its home games.
"It's not going to fix everything, but it's a Band-Aid that can temporarily heal a lot of open wounds that we have in this city," Burleson told the newspaper.
Reggie Bush, who was a member of the Saints in 2006 when the team returned to a devastated New Orleans, agrees that Detroit's plight and the affect a good team can have on the city are motivating factors for the Lions.
"We can definitely use that as fuel to maybe help restore some pride and hope within the city, within the people," Bush told the newspaper.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.