Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers made a grand gesture by offering to hire homeless-man-turned-Internet sensation Ted Williams, he of the golden radio voice.
Next, it might be nice if Gilbert and his other major financial holding pledged reasonable mortgages to the homeless in Cleveland and Detroit, and promised not to foreclose on those who already hold mortgages with Quicken Loans if they are laid off.
Williams' story was the Internet hot button this week. The guy stood by the side of the road in Columbus, Ohio, advertising on a homemade sign that he had a great radio voice. A Columbus Dispatch video reporter talked to him, and sent his story nationwide via the Internet. The video reporter's intentions were sincere and admirable -- to see if anyone could help one desperate man. Before long, Williams became a sensation. Less than 24 hours after his video appeared the Cavs offered him a job and to help pay his mortgage. Others, including NFL Films, said they wanted to talk to him about employment.
Helping anyone is always a good thing. It's good, kind, thoughtful, all that stuff. But there's a bigger picture at play here. A bigger picture that is obscured by the sensational story of one man.
Let's start by realistically asking: If Ted Williams said he had a great voice for radio and it came out sounding like Fran Drescher, would we even know his story? He was captivating because he had that deep voice nobody ever uses in every-day life, not even Williams. Everyone who watched that video opened their eyes when they heard him talk, and that's what prompted the chatter and job offers.
The help seemed to come because of the voice, not the person. To the point that help was offered before a background check was ever run on Williams. For all anyone knew, he could have been an escapee from Leavenworth.
He's not, of course. But he does have an interesting record, as detailed by The Smoking Gun online.
That site posted six of Williams' mug shots, and provided details on his last arrest. It stated that Williams constantly showed up at a National Tire and Battery store in Columbus, that he and a woman companion of his were a continual problem. While Williams was in the store asking for money from customers, his female friend was getting in and out of various cars driven by men, according to the police report.
There's your voice of Quicken Loans Arena, your John Facenda for NFL Films. There's the guy you want representing your company.
There could be reason for Williams' actions, mind you. Homelessness leads to desperation, and addiction can make anyone act in ways they do not want to act. But there is a long ways between being homeless and being an immediate sensation, between no home and nirvana. There is a way to help people that allows them to help themselves, without giving them the moon before asking a single question about their background and history.
Williams was on the "Today Show" Thursday, where he said his past legal problems were neither violent or serious. He sat next to Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, which is all well and good. Except imagine how many homeless Lauer and Vieira have passed on their way to work and not given a second glance to. Yet they fawn over Williams because he has a voice for radio?
Lauer makes $13 million a year, Vieira makes $10 million. Could some of that excessive salary help more homeless? Imagine if either or both gave up $1 million -- yes, they'd have to tighten their belts -- and gave that to the homeless. Would that not make a difference, as opposed to the fanatic fawning over one man?
Patricia Kirtley will not be on the "Today Show," though she deserves to be -- far more than Williams. She is Williams' former wife, and the New York Daily News tracked her down in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. She told the Daily News of raising the four children the couple had together by herself after Williams left the family, and of raising the child Williams had with another woman -- with no help from Williams. And ... she's partially blind.
After going on welfare, she became a blind vendor, and was driven to work by her mother and grandmother because she could not see to drive. Williams fathered more children with a woman also addicted to drugs, and Kirtley said two of her sisters and her cousin took those kids in.
And Williams is being celebrated as some kind of feel-good story while Kirtley is an afterthought? Who is the real star here?
Being kind to one man is always a good thing, but the way this story became so sensational so fast, with people falling over themselves to "save" him, belittles a serious problem. It insults those who are homeless, those who are wondering where the hope lives.
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, each year there are 100,000 homeless in New York City -- and each night 38,000 sleep in city shelters. Think about that number. It's the same number of people that lived in Lewiston, Maine's second-largest city, in 2007. Of the 38,000, 16,000 are children. Sixteen thousand kids, sleeping at night without a home. Families make up 78 percent of New York City's homeless population.
Those are numbers that make a person retch.
Yet this one guy who has a good voice gets a handler, an appearance on a radio show, an appearance on "Today" and more job offers than the average guy with two kids without health insurance and without a job because his employer decided his work could be shipped overseas. What about him? What about the veteran coming back without a limb? What about the many people who need help, who are not -- and never will be -- Internet sensations because they were lucky enough to be filmed?
Homeless sleep on the streets of Cleveland every night, in bitter cold, within blocks of Quicken Loans Arena. National columnist and author David Sirota points out on the Huffington Post that Quicken Loans, the company that offered Williams a job, is the same company foreclosing on families who also do not have jobs. "The same company that is bragging about offering a single homeless man a job is the same company that is making many people homeless ..." Sirota wrote. The point of his story was not even to lambaste Gilbert or Quicken Loans, but to point out the vapid nature of the story being written about Williams -- because it only illustrates a bigger issue.
MHS, an agency in Cleveland dedicated to ending homelessness, reports that Cuyahoga County had 2,186 homeless in January, with 896 of them victims of chronic substance abuse. How many of those homeless would be hired by the Cavs in any capacity? How many would have their mortgage paid by Quicken Loans, as the company offered Williams? And would they be given that offer without a background check? Yet a team that is 8-27 and struggling to find itself fell in love with a man it had never met, talked to or considered for employment until his video appeared on the Internet. And then it went live on a radio show to make the job offer.
Perhaps folks who have been foreclosed on by Quicken Loans should go to the website set up by the company -- wewanttedwilliams.com -- and tell their stories there. Heck, some of those people and others who lost their jobs would love to tell their stories. They'd probably die at the chance to serve popcorn at the arena if it would help feed their family.
Helping someone who needs help is wonderful. There's no substitute. The Cavs do much commendable charity work, and maybe Williams just needs a chance. In that regard, everyone who offered help should be commended.
But the problem with the way the society and culture operate now, though, is that Williams was helped because he got on the Internet. While thousands wish their story could be heard, he got to talk. And because he had a radio voice, he got attention while others suffer. Meanwhile, as of midday Thursday, he had not talked to the Cavs anymore about their job offer.
There is a big difference between philanthropy and publicity. The definition of philanthropy alone exhibits that reality. It simply means doing good for its own sake.