- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For those that might have missed on it Sunday, this week's SportsCenter Featured special centered on St. Louis Rams defensive ends William Hayes and Chris Long's 24-hour homeless experience.
Before reading much further, it's worth watching the video and reading ESPN Senior Writer Liz Merrill's piece. To go with that, it's also worth seeing a little further on the team's official website where they've posted a video and more explanation of the genesis of Hayes and Long's night on the streets.
Long and Hayes have both taken opportunities to explain why they wanted to do the project and the clear focus was on raising awareness about a cause they both value. The piece spurred plenty of thoughts and emotions on social media. I had no shortage of my own.
Here's a few takeaways from watching:
Believe it or not (OK, it's easy to believe), there were those on social media who found ways to complain about what Long and Hayes did. The argument, such as it was, was that spending one night on the street is nothing compared to what our country's homeless go through every day and night of their lives. That's undoubtedly true. It also misses the point. Long and Hayes never once have said that one night on the streets is enough to really grasp what the homeless endure. Others also argued that if it was a selfless endeavor then why would they have done it for television? Again, that's a nonsensical argument. Hayes initially didn't want to do the television segment but realized that it was a chance to call attention to a cause that's close to him. And that really gets to the heart of why Long and Hayes did what they did. Hayes has been active with the St. Patrick's Center here in St. Louis for the past year and routinely goes there to spend time with the people who have made their way off the streets. As Merrill's story mentions, Hayes has taken teenagers from the St. Patrick's Center to the movies on multiple occasions, among other regular visits."We don't understand," Long told Merrill. "We weren't hoping to understand. We were just hoping to gain a little perspective and put kind of a feeling with the cause that we had been [donating to] from a distance the last couple of years."
It's worth noting that this is far from a one-off. After Rams coach Jeff Fisher took over in 2012, assistant head coach Dave McGinnis and defensive line coach Mike Waufle got involved in reviving the team's "Sack Homelessness" program. That program had previously been in place but had been stalled for a few years. Upon its return, the Rams pledged $1,000 for every sack they'd rack up in a given season. In the time since, the Rams have the second-most sacks in the league with 145. That's good for $145,000 right there but there have been extra dollars given here and there that actually push the total to closer to $150,000. So obviously, they aren't just donating time but money to the project.
Hayes and Long have a reputation for their comedic antics in the Rams locker room and that's a deserved reputation. The whole defensive line group is consistently one of the most interesting, eclectic and, yes, funny, on the team. But it's also a group that takes football and philanthropy very seriously. Long just launched a campaign to help provide clean water in East Africa and Hayes has been devoted to helping the homeless for most of his time in St. Louis. The entire Rams organization is as active or more active than any sports franchise you'll find in any city, anywhere.
Which is a truth that brought me to a different thought after digesting what I watched on Sunday morning. These are tense times in St. Louis for many reasons far more important than just the future of the local football team. But the reality is that there's a very real chance that the Rams won't be in St. Louis beyond 2016. That's a shame for football fans here (just as it was for those in Los Angeles when that city lost the Rams) but it very well could be a bigger loss for a community that needs as many Chris Longs and William Hayes' as it can get. The NFL is expected to release a market study soon that will focus on the fans here and their willingness to buy Personal Seat Licenses and whether local businesses are willing to bring money to the table for suites and sponsorships. What it won't include is the value of having a professional sports franchise ready and willing to help those in need in their city. The bottom line and business is always going to win out. I get that and I'm not saying Los Angeles couldn't use the good works of a pro football team. But while there might be no way to put a price tag or value on something like helping a couple of homeless people get back on their feet, as the NFL examines the future of the teams in their current markets, perhaps maybe they should.