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Save the Saints. Demand respect.

Jarod DuVall

Cash under the table. Broken laws. Overlooking (at best) or encouraging (at worst) questionable, maybe immoral behavior. Perpetuating unnecessary violence. Sound familiar?

We unfortunately associate these actions with the New Orleans Police Department, Louisiana politicians, and New Orleans courts. Now the city adds its most beloved institution to the list: the Saints, who currently possess the most ironic name in American sports.

As we outwait the fallout of the “bounty” scandal, the nation has been having a field day. Journalists enjoy predicting consequences and editorials send out opposing messages. Stop overreacting! Saints deserve worst punishment in NFL history! A great piece on by Charles P. Pierce calls out the football façade: The NFL (for legal and commercial reasons) has been focusing on the safety of an inherently violent sport as fans eat up violent plays but condemn dirty players.

Meanwhile, longtime Saints fans come to grips with this unpleasant revelation and must evaluate their relationship with the team. Renee Peck, the Nolavie editor, described her gut reaction in an article earlier this week and captured that terrible moment we all have experienced: when our heroes become too mortal. The Saints have fallen down to our level or maybe even further.

I, too, felt the disappointment, along with anger. On the other hand, the city seems to be responding differently. If the Times Picayune’s article about fans’ reactions can generalize the city’s feelings, then people seem to be more upset about the NFL wanting to investigate and punish the violations than the Saints actually committing the violations. Fans have been posting rationalizations for the actions.

“Every team is doing it; we just got caught.” Does that really make it better?

“Football is inherently violent.” “Even if they were not getting paid, players would still try to hurt each other.” Maybe, but encouraging even more violence and breaking rules makes the matter different.

Why aren’t we enraged by the scandal and the leaders’ blatant arrogance? Why aren’t we appalled by the lack of accountability and alleged immorality? Why aren’t we depressed by their disregard as to what the inevitable fallout would do to the team, the city, and the fans? Instead of reasoning that “football is a violent sport,” how about pointing to the Saints and uttering an unprintable phrase from John Goodman’s character on Treme?

For the sake of transparency, I must admit that I am not a huge football fan. I grew up in Los Angeles, and I attended college in Saint Louis when the Rams went an awful 14-50. So, chastising my team is easier than it would be if I had been a born Saints fan.

Still, I watched the Saint’s Superbowl run — caught up in the rebuilding narrative for the city that had captured my heart during a family vacation. Once I moved to New Orleans, I rode the Breesus high like the rest of the city and have watched almost every game during the last two seasons.

When I told football fans from other cities that I rooted for the Saints, no one called me a bandwagon fan or even questioned why. They would usually say, “Yea, they’re a good team.”

By good, they not only meant that the current Saints were perennial contenders, but more importantly, that the players and coaches seemed like good people. They were not an evil empire like the Patriots, and Saints fans did not have the negative connotation of Raiders’ or Jets’ fans.

All of that has changed. I will probably receive more eye-rolling than nods of approval when rooting for the Saints outside of New Orleans, but I will still be rooting for them, just as the city will next season. The Saints are tainted, but my memories of watching games with friends are not. Friendships solidified over Saints football and BBQ cannot be vacated.

In fact, our love for the team and for what we thought they represented is why we need to demand more instead of protecting them through rationalizations or denials. After such intense support. After standing up and getting crunk for every game. After anointing the Saints as the symbol of New Orleans’ strength, resilience, and hope, we deserve more.

As numerous articles have pointed out this last week, the whole situation is probably a better indication of the moral state of the NFL than of New Orleans. But how can we not draw parallels to our city when the Saints have been one of its primary symbols since Katrina?

The Saints winning the Superbowl proved to the country that New Orleans was back. Now the Saints scandal forces us to question how far we have really come.

On March 3, CNN published an article about New Orleans’ undisputed status as the Murder Capital, and I found it to be even more disheartening than the Saints scandal. The piece talks about the culture of harming with little provocation and killing over seemingly trivial matters. It describes the city’s mistrust of all government institutions after years of corruption and ineptitude in the police department, court system, and politicians’ offices.

Considering the circumstances, the feel-good story of a city rallying around its class-act football team can easily take on a darker side. A city plagued by murders and crime worships an inherently violent sport. In particular, a team that illegally pays players to harm their opponents to the extent that they can no longer play in the game.

Despite the constant murders, the article does offer hope. Citizens have been taking back their communities by offering after-school programs and opening up new community centers. NOPD has been struggling to clean its name and has pledged greater accountability and transparency, which has led to more tips and support.

The murder problem cannot be fixed overnight, but people have been demanding improvements and have been becoming more involved. Change is slowly happening.

In a city working to clean its name and prove that it is rebuilding in the right direction, the Saints just dealt a setback and helped confirm the stereotypes. Compared to the murder problem, the Saints’ scandal is an easy fix, though time will be required for their name to be cleared and trust restored. Their advantage is that the city desperately wants to forgive them.

Our expectations and admiration probably reached an unhealthy level. Maybe asking normal men with extraordinary athletic ability to serve as morally superior role models was too much. Maybe asking the Saints, which is a profit-oriented corporation, after all, to symbolize what we want the city to become was also too much.

Yet, we deserve entertainment devoid of the corruption and hard realities we face daily. Our city deserves a source of strength and inspiration that is at the very least honest and respectful, if not morally superior. Our loyalty and our hard-earned money should be a privilege.

If we really want to protect our adored Saints, we must demand the same transparency and respect that we ask from our government and police. We must require them to commit to rebuilding our trust and work toward actually becoming what we had imagined they were.

Jarod DuVall currently lives the not-so “Big Easy” life as a Tulane medical student. In his ample spare time, he enjoys exploring New Orleans. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis as a Howard Nemerov Writing Scholar.


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