NFL quarterback huddles up with the City of Buffalo

From the NBA’s Tim Donaghy referee scandal, to Michael Vick’s contemptible dogfighting, and the surly Barry Bonds pursuing Hank Aaron’s all-natural home run record, the summer of 2007 has been a rough ride for sports fans. It’s hard to notice when negativity rules the front page every day, but for every Michael Vick, there are 10 or 20 other athletes who use their fame and fortune to leave the world a better place than they found it.

One of those stories and characters can be found in Buffalo, where a quarterback from Venice, Calif. has embraced his adopted east coast home of three years as his own—and is working hard to make sure that the core city becomes a better (and cleaner) place to live for everyone. Quarterback J.P. Losman was drafted by the Buffalo Bills three years ago, and rather than buying an estate out in a suburb with his lucrative signing bonus, he moved into a downtown condo. And according to this piece in the Buffalo News, he recently bought a house in a historic neighborhood just a stone’s throw north of the downtown business district.

I’m sure there’s no scientific evidence to support it, but it seems to me that most of the high-paid athletes in professional sports towns across the country don’t usually live in the actual cities they play in, usually living out in wealthier suburbs on the fringe. Growing up in Atlanta, most of the Braves and Falcons players I knew of tended to settle in gated country clubs on the north side of town, and relatively few if any lived in the city proper. Former Bills running back Willis McGahee, traded away from Buffalo before this season, famously derided Buffalo on his way out of town for being a dead old city with “nothing to do. But, according to The Buffalo News:

The quarterback of the Buffalo Bills can tick off a dozen reasons why he thinks this city is a great place to be and why he chooses to live downtown, not in the suburbs. But feeling that bond with the city is at the top of the list…So this summer, Losman created a project called Buffalo Lives, a nonprofit organization with a goal of beautifying Buffalo one block at a time. Its first event will be held Saturday, when citizens will be invited to come to Niagara Square and participate in a morning-long cleanup of four downtown districts…’I want to get something started…I want to focus on urban, downtown Buffalo, the heart of the city….’

Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan praised Losman’s commitment to the city and hoped that his on-field performance will be good enough to keep him around for a long time:

He is clearly passionate about the city, and dismayed by the narrow, pessimistic image that persists in the minds of outsiders and residents alike. In the interview, Losman spoke lovingly about many of the things we take for granted: Elmwood Avenue, the diversity of cultures, the live music, elegant old homes, great restaurants, abundant natural resources, even a healthy whiff of our cold, clean winter air. You’d think he had lived his entire life in our midst. ‘It’s not a dying city,’ Losman says. ‘It’s a city moving forward.’ Losman can be our one-man chamber of commerce. For better or worse, the Bills are our primary connection to the larger American culture. As the Bills’ quarterback, Losman has a big forum. Who better to spread the message that Buffalo is a great place to live? He knows it won’t matter if he fails on the football field, but he says he’s determined to succeed in the NFL and to be in Buffalo for a long time. Willis McGahee told the world there was nothing to do here. Losman is saying there’s a lot to do. For starters, you can show up at City Hall on Saturday, ready to work.

Buffalo Lives held that first cleanup event on September 1st, which was an overwhelming success, according to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who said “If J.P. leads the Bills offense like he led this cleanup, they will win the Super Bowl. I’ve taken part in various cleanups going back to 1989. I’ve never seen this kind of turnout.”

After the cleanup, Losman told the newspaper “I’m really happy with all the work we’re doing, but the message we’re sending is even more important. Buffalo is a great, beautiful city. We all need to take pride in it.”

Professional athletes turning their attention to urban revitalization in their cities: Trend of the future or just an extraordinary story? Either way, it beats reading another Michael Vick story.

Buffalo News story
Buffalo News column
Cleanup story
Buffalo Lives