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The Saints vs. the Fans

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

For most of their 50 years, the New Orleans Saints have been a losing professional football franchise. It took 20 years for the team to make the playoffs and other another 13 years to secure their first playoff victory. It took 42 years for the team to finally win the Super Bowl.

Through the suffering, the great New Orleans Saints fans have remained loyal to their beloved team. However, that loyalty is being threatened by the actions of selfish players and the inappropriate comments of the Saints ownership and Head Coach Sean Payton.

Last Friday night, in a rally in Huntsville, AL, President Trump blasted NFL players for disrespecting the National Anthem. He called on NFL owners to fire any player who refused to stand for the National Anthem. Instead of following his advice, owners backed the actions of over 200 players who disrespected the National Anthem on Sunday.

Among the protesters were ten Saints players, who sat during the National Anthem. In another gesture surely aimed at President Trump, Saints Wide Receiver Brandon Coleman raised his fist in the air after a touchdown. This black power salute brought back uncomfortable memories of the 1960’s Black Panthers terrorist organization, not exactly what fans want to see in the end zone on a Sunday afternoon.  

The Saints organization did not discipline any of the players, instead team management criticized Donald Trump. In a prepared statement, the Saints called the President’s criticism of the National Anthem protesters “disappointing and inappropriate.” The team also supported the players and stated that they “should be allowed to share or express their feelings.”

On Friday, team owner Tom Benson issued a statement offering “support and resources” to help resolve the “issues of social injustice.” Benson did not identify what demands the players are making or the type of bias being faced by millionaire Saints players, who make more each week than the average American family earns in a year.  Are the players protesting police misconduct or treatment of minorities in America? Certainly, pampered NFL players are not the victims of discrimination, so it is unclear what the players are protesting. Is it police conduct or treatment of minorities in America? Or is it just an anti-Trump protest?

To make matters worse, Coach Payton questioned the wisdom of President Trump and said he was “dividing the country.” Last year, Payton made headlines for anti-Second Amendment comments in the aftermath of the murder of former Saints player Will Smith. In fact, the Coach praised “England, where even the cops don’t have guns.”

Sean Payton is the most successful head coach in the history of the New Orleans Saints. He led his team to the playoffs five times, including one NFC championship and one glorious Super Bowl. Clearly, his mastery of his craft is unquestioned and his coaching tactics have been emulated by other NFL coaches. However, after three straight losing seasons, it might be a better idea for the coach to focus on football rather than bashing the President or advocating gun control.

After last Sunday’s game, Saints Quarterback Drew Brees spoke in favor of standing for the National Anthem, but criticized the President’s comments. For this Sunday’s game, Brees announced that the players will first kneel in unison and then stand for the National Anthem. According to Brees, this compromise will “show respect to all,” but, in actuality, it will only perpetuate this divisive protest movement, which has never been clearly explained.

All of these political comments and protests are having negative ramifications for the Saints. Several Louisiana legislators are now questioning the funding the team receives from the state budget. Benson, the billionaire owner, who is the richest man in Louisiana, has received over $165 million in state benefits, including an extensive renovation of the Louisiana Superdome and the annual payment of office rent at his building in downtown New Orleans.  

Rather than bankroll a billionaire, legislators have identified more pressing needs in Louisiana such as infrastructure, coastal restoration and higher education. If Saints players continue to be disrespectful toward symbols of our country, and receive support from coaches and management, it may be difficult to convince legislators to continue the subsidies.

If the anthem protests don’t immediately stop, both the NFL and the New Orleans Saints are threatening their solid support base among loyal fans. Already there are signs that the Saints have crossed a line with local fans. For example, a Slidell, Louisiana Mardi Gras Krewe has rescinded an invitation for two players to serve as Grand Marshals in the next parade.

In Chalmette, Louisiana, the management of WOW Café and Winery announced that the restaurant will not air Saints games for their patrons until the players start showing appropriate reverence for the National Anthem.

While it might not be a full-scale fan revolt, the negative reaction is unprecedented in the annals of Saints history. As some Saints fans burn their jerseys, others are selling their tickets online and promising not to attend another game. Overall, the team has lost 20,000 “likes” on their Facebook page, which is significant for Saints fans are die-hard supporters. Even during the 1980 season, in which the Saints finished 1-15, fans still attended the games, but with bags over their head.

Unless corrective action is taken, the Saints are on the verge of destroying the tremendous loyalty and support among fans that has been developed over 50 years. This is all being threatened due to the ill-advised actions and comments of the entire organization, not just the ten players who sat during the National Anthem.

For the remainder of the season, all players should stand for the National Anthem and show proper respect to not only a country that has given them so much. It will also properly recognize the fans who served in the military and made sacrifices that have guaranteed all Americans the right to enjoy our God given constitutional freedoms.  

All Saints fans are the “customers” of the team and no group has been more long suffering and loyal. These people deserve better treatment from the organization. The fans need to be respected first and foremost. Unfortunately, the Saints, in a bid to show solidarity with a protest movement, have forgotten their fan base. Let’s hope and pray they come to their senses. 

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