Saving One, Ignoring Thousands?: The Aftermath of the Ted Williams Story

By Arturo R. García

Seriously, it’s great to see Ted Williams reclaim a career and a life that were derailed to the point of homelessness. But this segment from The Early Show shows an unfortunate underside to some of the support he’s gotten around the Cleveland area.

“I just wanna hear you talk!” co-host Chris Wragge gushes. “Just read something!” His colleague, Erica Hill, urges Williams to do a jingle for their show. After hearing Williams’ emotional description of his upcoming reunion with his mother, and his daily “hour with God” while panhandling, Wragge’s unnerving response is to thank Williams for putting them in good spirits, and ask him to do a mock-batting announcement. With that kind of “banter,” no wonder the show’s losing in the ratings.

The air of exploitation, in fact, can be traced back to the video clip that got Williams all the attention to begin with.

In the video, Columbus Dispatch photographer Doral Chenoweth mentions he’d seen Williams panhandling with his sign mentioning his “God-given gift of voice.” Then we cut to Chenoweth pulling up beside him and saying, “I’m gonna make you work for your dollar – say something with that great radio voice!” It’s not until Williams “proves himself” that Chenoweth apparently felt he was worthy of a stand-up interview, where we get more of the story. What would have happened if Williams’ voice wasn’t up to Chenoweth’s “standards”?

Of course, Williams got his happy ending; Thursday he accepted a two-year announcing contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers that comes complete with a mortgage-free home. But the brief frenzy of companies seemingly fighting over the press to hire him – the Cavs even devoted a website to “recruiting” him – can’t help but seem a little unseemly when nearly 10 percent of the state population is unemployed, or when about 4,000 other Clevelanders are homeless, according to this report from WEWS-TV. Here’s to hoping Williams’ ownership of – or even option to pay mortgage on – the home isn’t compromised if the team should decide not to renew his deal after those two years.

Beyond that, is it unreasonable to hope that Williams’ hiring brings about some renewed attention for the area’s homeless community? One would hope not – after all, it’s not like they don’t have spare swag to give away. (And as donations go, a jersey wouldn’t be as out-there as, say, thong underwear.)

It would also be nice if Williams’ newfound popularity opens peoples’ eyes to, say, the kind of violence against the homeless described by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, citing a report (in PDF form here) by the National Coalition for the Homeless. According to NEOCH Executive Director Brian Davis:

The hate crimes report was released in August 2010, and classifies the most dangerous states for hate crimes against the homeless as those with fifteen or more acts of violence carried out against the homeless population in a year. In 2009, Ohio officials reported a serial killer targeting vulnerable homeless women and a number of attacks on campsites in Cincinnati. Ohio was identified as the third most dangerous state in the United States, and fourth most dangerous state in the last 11 years.

So, again, cheers to Williams for being in the right place at the right time. and for pulling himself out of addiction. But I just hope his Cinderella story doesn’t give his new neighbors an excuse to ignore the people who aren’t getting that YouTube spotlight every day.

Donations can be made to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless at its’ website.