Growing up in New Orleans, I’ve had little choice but to love the Saints. My earliest memories come from the Bobby Hebert- Dome-Patrol-ChaChing era, a time when the team slowly began to shrug off its lovable loser image—barely. There were still plenty of heartbreaking defeats, bitter Mondays, and first-round playoff losses. As long as I’ve lived in this city, the Saints have been a great opiate for New Orleans, yet another way to process loss and disappointment into something romantic, and a way to bring the community together. And of course, for parents and children, young and old, rich and poor, football has traditionally been the great equalizer, a way to bond and communicate, especially if there weren’t too many other avenues for that. I’ve also always loved that the Saints are represented by a fleur-de-lis, a symbol that actually resonates with the culture of New Orleans. And it’s a flower on a football helmet. Can’t beat that poetry.
I think back to all of the major news events of my life and they all seem so terrible: the Challenger explosion, Desert Storm, OJ, Waco, Columbine, 9/11, Katrina. When the Saints won the Super Bowl for the 2009 season and everyone in the city took to the streets, it felt like the greatest public celebration I had ever witnessed. True city-wide catharsis. Fuckin’ Who Dat.
So it’s not easy to say, but this year I can’t do it. I can’t watch this NFL bullshit anymore. I won’t say I’m done with football—or the Saints— but I’m going to sit this season out. Simply put, the NFL is putting out a bad product and I don’t want to pay for it or support it.
This year’s NFL is plagued foremost by the Ray Rice incident, which exposed the league’s indifference towards domestic violence. Commissioner Roger Goodell—taking the ignorant/incompetent defense—is at the epicenter of this nightmare, and yet he remains (at least for now) immune from any true consequence. In this respect— and a few others I’d like to talk about—the NFL has come to represent everything that’s wrong with America.
Naturally, it starts at the top. NFL owners are the quintessential one- percenters, as they rake in billions, all the while dodging taxes, writing their own laws, and generally running roughshod over the cities they inhabit (Super Bowl XLVII was more of an occupation than a sporting event). Everyone loves Tom Benson (our state’s richest citizen) now; how we so easily forget the San Antonio year post-Katrina, or the constant extortion of state and city funds—or else the team moves. The amount of money that flows upwards to these organized criminals creates a bubble in which they operate free of input from their customers, or even basic common sense. How else to explain the blatant racism of a team called the Redskins? Other than Aunt Jemima, I can’t think of another company that would refuse to change the name of one of its products in the wake of our ever evolving ideas about race and racist language.
A few weeks ago, I caught an interview with Steve Almond, who has laid these arguments out in much greater detail in his book Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. His thoughts helped me come to a horrifying conclusion: if you are gay or a victim of domestic violence, you will find more assistance and acceptance in the U.S. Military than the National Football League. Say what???
The NFL has also glorified cut-throat culture. We all remember Gregg Williams, the Saints Defensive Coordinator during the best of the Payton years. He was banished from the league for his coaching philosophy, which was summed up by his now infamous directive, “Affect the head.” As in, hurt someone’s brain, get them disoriented. Fuck them up. Saints nation was outraged, not because he was caught or his methods revealed, but because our team had been somehow arbitrarily singled out for behavior that is clearly rampant throughout the league. Seriously, how many NFL coaches do you think would win “Dad of the Year” award? Work harder than the next guy, put more hours in. Want it more. Sacrifice everything for the trophy.
The list goes on and on and I wish I had more room to vent. Concussions, $8 Bud Lights, censorship… And just like American politics, if we keep “voting ” for these assholes with our money, that’s all the endorsement they need, and our money is really the only thing they’re interested in. We’ll keep getting the same. Roger Goodell will have plenty of job security, Tom Benson will probably get a few more statues erected in his honor (and millions of tax dollars), the chant of “Who Dat?” will grow more fascist by the season. Fall in line, fans.
In this country, football is a religion. That’s fine, I have observed most of my life. But I can’t be blindly devout. I’m ready to pin this page on one of the Superdome’s many doors and call for a reformation, because this current incarnation of our beloved sport is straight unacceptable. It’s gross, and this year I say no thank you. Or as my man Ballzack once so eloquently put it, “Man, fuck sports.” —Dan Fox