The New Orleans Saints collapsed last season without head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for allowing his players to put injury bounties on the best players of opposing teams. With their poor play and lack of leadership came a tremendous blow to their reputation as community leaders in post-Katrina New Orleans. Are the Saints the thugs that last year’s confusing suspensions implied? Or are they the inspirational leaders we once knew?
When New Orleans was crushed by intense flooding and damaging winds, the city was on the brink of total devastation. Meanwhile, a struggling Saints franchise took a risk on new quarterback in Drew Brees, fresh off a career-threatening injury, and brought in a new coach to help rebuild their football team. As a microcosm of the city, the New Orleans Saints came to embody the spirit of New Orleans during a thrilling run to a Super Bowl victory.
With the resilience and strength of a battle-tested community on full display, the Saints defied the odds with one of the most passionate fan bases in sports backing their every move. Drew Brees became a hero on the field, and ultimately used his good fortune to become involved in the community. As a charitable, upstanding player, he built a reputation as one of the “good guys” in sports. The Saints seemed to become everything good about the human spirit and the triumphs of their city.
Last season, the Saints were accused of deliberately trying to injury opposing players with cash rewards for any injuries levied on the field. In stark contrast to everything the Saints seemed to embody, Bounty-Gate tarnished the franchise in a significant way.
As the Saints try to turn a corner and put Bounty-Gate allegations behind them, their role in the community remains as large as ever. The city of New Orleans embraces the Saints as much as any other city in football. Despite last season’s confusing saga of incomplete allegations and possibly unfounded suspensions, the Saints mean too much to their city to fail them again.
Bounty-Gate should serve as a learning experience for Sean Payton and the rest of the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees, never truly implicated in Bounty-Gate but clearly frustrated by it, remains a positive force for the organization and the city. The Saints will continue to be the inspirational leaders we thought they were, but perhaps, fueled by controversy, become even more active.
It is important to remember the Saints aren’t the thugs that last season’s suspensions accused them for, rather they are a powerful, benevolent presence that embodies the spirit of their community. Bounty-Gate will not define this team going forward — and rightfully so.