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When will people stop ripping Detroit?

10/26/2012
The Detroit Tigers return home to play Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night. Leon Halip/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, television comedian Jay Leno included a joke about Detroit in his monologue: "The police chief of Detroit was suspended after a female police officer said she had sex with him in exchange for a promotion. And, of course, people are stunned: Detroit has a police department?”

The next day, Quicken CEO Dan Gilbert, who has moved thousands of jobs to the city and also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, said to the Detroit News, "What can we do about people destroying the reputation of our city, locally and nationally?”

That's a good question.

The Detroit Tigers, down 2-0 in the World Series, return home to play Game 3 on Saturday, and will the jokes about the city continue? You don't hear people making fun of San Francisco. In fact, Businessweek.com ranked it the best city in the nation.

Now, Detroit? Not so much.

It's understandable really when Forbes magazine comes out this week calling Detroit -- for the fourth year in a row -- the "Most Dangerous City in America," citing statistics from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

And throw in the joke last year when the "Conan O'Brien Show" website, listed Detroit as the No. 4 worst summer vacation spot in the world, right above the “CIA Poison Sumac Weaponization Center in Langley, Va.”

But is it really fair to the people there when the economy in the city fell apart after the collapse of the auto industry?

"Detroit still has a PR challenge," said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. "We have been making a lot of positive changes in the past two years but it's going to take a long time before the national media notices."

Baruah served as President George W. Bush’s last administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and was one of the senior officials shaping the federal government’s thoughts on the U.S. automotive industry.

"I'm bullish despite the challenges we have," Baruah said. "This is Sportstown USA. I think we've come a long way. I tell people, 'You should be able to take a victory lap. You should celebrate what we've already accomplished.'"

From a sports perspective, the city of Detroit has been successful for many years. The Tigers are appearing in their 11th World Series, having won four, the last being in 1984. The Tigers also reached the 2006 World Series but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Detroit Red Wings have won two Stanley Cup crowns in the past 10 years. And the Detroit Pistons won the NBA crown in 2004. Only the Detroit Lions have been underachievers for a long time.

Baseball great Jack Morris, who led the 1984 Tigers to the title, said the city of Detroit is better today than when he played there but some depressing sights remain -- and that's the perception people are basing their opinions on.

"There is nothing worse than seeing a beautiful structure downtown that is empty," said Morris, who played 13 years for the Tigers. "Detroit is so much based on the auto industry, and unfortunately, a lot of those people are unemployed and times are tough."

But Morris said the crowds at the sports arenas understood the games and showed their loyalty.

"It was a blessing to play there because the fans really knew what was going on. All they wanted you to do was bust your butt," Morris said. "If you take jobs out of the mix, I think the best way for the city to turn around is by their sports teams winning. That just shows pride in the community."

Comedian Keegan Key, who stars in Comedy Central's "Key & Peele" show and was born in a neighboring city outside Detroit, said sports will always bring a community together.

"I never joke about my city in my act. They are good people there. They are hurting and it's sad when people make fun of them," Key said. "It's not their fault. People need to see that they are good, hard-working people."

But can the Tigers this weekend change the perception of the national audience toward the city?

"There is no better sight than seeing two people in a baseball stadium high-fiving each other over a good play by the home team," Fox broadcaster Joe Buck said, "and you realize they don't even know each other."

Dave Beachnau, executive director of the Detroit Sports Commission, said this weekend will go a long way to getting people to think of Detroit in a positive light.

"This a great, vibrant city," Beachnau said. "We have another great opportunity to shape the national perception of our town."