GRAY: LSU, Louisiana and the "Katrina Effect"

There is certainly nothing new that can be said about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the total destruction of lives and property it has caused in South Louisiana and our neighboring states. As we enter the period of recovering those who lost their lives, and the unspeakable death toll we are about to realize, it seems unimportant to consider the impact this has on LSU athletics.

But the fact is, the economic impact of this disaster will affect us for years to come in ways you haven't even begun to imagine.

One of the first obvious areas impacted within LSU Athletics will be new multimedia rights holder Viacom, who will pay the LSU Athletic Department approximately $7 million for what will be a very solemn year. With the first two home games postponed and moved, it will be difficult if not impossible for fans to celebrate football at the frenzy generally associated with a new coach's first year while so many lives have been destroyed around us. This mega-deal has been the subject of controversy since Viacom's proposal was submitted, with rumors that they already have some regrets. One can only imagine what they are thinking now with LSU athletic facilities converted to medical triage areas for hurricane victims.

While the decision to move the Arizona State game to Tempe was the only logical choice given the circumstances, it still delays any ability to kick off the season until September 24th – the loss of a valuable month of momentum. Unfortunately, at this time when Tiger fans are already distressed, the Athletic Department chose to offer four options for assigning ticket refunds to those holding tickets for Tiger Stadium. As sports talk show callers lit up the lines complaining, LSU asked fans to donate to a special fund for students who need assistance from hurricane damage or to the Athletic Department to offset the cost of moving the game – not a particularly popular option among fans. Fans can also apply the amount to 2006 season ticket purchases or receive a refund.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints, who have lost use of the Superdome for the foreseeable future, are talking to LSU about using Tiger Stadium for up to three seasons. For a university that has avoided sharing locker rooms, practice fields and facilities with other teams during the off-season, just imagine what it will be like to turn the campus around from a Saturday night LSU game to a Sunday NFL game. I feel sure this is not the scenario imagined by Coach Les Miles when he took the LSU job.

Among the tragic stories are also those of young people rising to the occasion by lending a helping hand to make a difference in someone's life at this difficult time. LSU's athletes and coaches have volunteered countless hours in the Maravich Assembly Center and Field House, which house evacuees in need of medical treatment. Others have visited local shelters to sign autographs, shoot basketball with kids and simply let these people know someone cares. It doesn't really matter that classes were disrupted on campus because of Katrina – these students are learning life lessons they could never learn in a classroom.

Coach D-D Breaux and the Gymnastics team helped out in the Maddox Field House, which houses their practice facility. Other coaches, teams and athletic staff have not only helped convert sports facilities to hospitals, but also done their part to make victims a little more comfortable while they wait to be reunited with families, or for the next step in their lives.

LSU Basketball players Glen Davis, Garrett Temple, Tasmin Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas are among the regular volunteers and have also been called into action by Temple's father, Collis Temple, who spends every day trying to help people who have lost everything find jobs, housing and new lives in Baton Rouge.

Temple can be found these days helping those who seem to slip through the cracks of other relief efforts – out at 3 a.m. trying to find shelter for bus loads of people so disoriented from their devastation that they just need a helping hand; taking his son and friends to hand out water at a Social Services office when he learns that people are actually fainting from the heat while standing in long lines to sign up for assistance; opening his home to friends for meetings, dinner or a place to stay.

One of the more amazing coincidences to come out of Temple's efforts was the reuniting of former LSU football and track stand-out Al Coffee with friend and track teammate Lloyd Wills who is now staying with Temple only a few blocks from Coffee's home. Wills, the first African-American athlete on the LSU campus, had not seen his friend Coffee in over 30 years.

The individual stories of LSU football players who lost contact with family members or brought them to Baton Rouge to sleep on air mattresses in student apartments were detailed on ESPN's "Outside the Lines."

My personal hero is JaMarcus Russell, who rescued Fats Domino, who was temporarily missing after riding out Katrina in his home in the lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Fats was treated in the PMAC and spent two days with his family in Russell's apartment before leaving Baton Rouge. Russell told the local newspaper he had almost 20 people sleeping in his apartment and he made a 2 a.m. run to the pharmacy to pick up medicine for Fats during his stay.

These are just a few of the stories swirling around LSU Athletics in the aftermath of Katrina. There is no playbook for a disaster of this proportion. We are all learning the rules as we go.

Residents of Baton Rouge and the LSU Campus have opened their hearts and homes to their extended families, friends and strangers alike in just the way you would want it to happen. Except for one mis-step by Chancellor Sean O'Keefe, who distributed a blast email warning the LSU campus of "civil unrest" in downtown Baton Rouge, based on rumors that turned out to be untrue, Baton Rouge has absorbed much of the population of New Orleans in a very positive way.

The damage of Hurricane Katrina will be evident for years to come. Once we have an opportunity to mourn the loss of lives, we will experience the financial impact for many years to come. LSU Athletics will not escape this economic hit.

Now our focus turns to September 24th , when the Tennessee Volunteers come to Tigertown for LSU's only home game until October 15th. It will be a time to come together to begin the healing and recovery of spirit.

But Louisiana, LSU -- and that person who sits next to you in Tiger Stadium on September 24th -- will never, ever be the same.


Rannah Gray is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag Magazine.

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