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Of Saints and Sinners

At times, the tension of the Saints 2009 ‘super’ season was difficult to watch. Years of faith, hope and expectation culminated in an amazing dash for the Lombardi trophy. In our very own New Orleans Superdome, the sight of unprecedented destruction and disaster only 4 years before, the city watched as Sean Payton, Greg Williams, Jonathan Vilma, Tracy Porter and countless others did the impossible. We went to the Superbowl. We won the Superbowl. It all seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

In the last 24 hours, the NFL has revealed that their investigation of the New Orleans Saints has uncovered a history of corruption and cover-up on a Watergate/Spygate scale. While welcoming such football legends as Kurt Warner and Brett Farve into our stadium, coaches and players placed illegal bounties on their heads. The hard hits in those games, hits that virtually sidelined our most talented opponents, were fueled by more than just spirit: they were fueled by a cash flow. Greg Williams encouraged it. Sean Payton and Tom Benson knew about it, and did little to stop it. The crime was bad. The cover up was worse.

As difficult as it was to watch the Saints finally make it to victory, it is now even more difficult to watch this scandal unfold. Difficult in an entirely different way. Difficult in a way that makes it appropriate to discuss this in a spiritual way. The Saints, true to their namesakes, have become spiritual inspiration in this city. Payton, Benson and their comrades were made quasi-religious icons in this culturally Catholic city. We’ve attended Mass with them, seen them lead prayer breakfasts. We’ve waited in line for them to sign their books, but we’ve also watched them receive blessings from local ministers, Louisiana bishops and even the Pope. The NFL bestowed the Lombardi trophy upon them and, for our part, we bestowed something of a halo. They were heroes on the field and off: winning games, supporting charities and renewing our sense of hope and dignity. We had faith in them, faith in the full sense of that word. That faith is now reeling in doubt. What do we do with this? These men were hallmarks of integrity. They weren’t just lucky: they were good. We’ve discovered that some of them were just lucky and bad. Now, their luck has run out. And we who believed in them, are struggling to make sense of it all.

Lent in New Orleans has never been that big of a sacrifice. The seafood is good. There are a lot of festivals to distract us. Yet we all know that there is much we need to do penance for. With a consistently high crime rate, perennial public scandals and a ‘culture of violence’ that our Catholic mayor and Archbishop have decried, this should be a time of soul searching. Apparently that culture of violence is not limited to the Ninth Ward: it has infected our beloved Superdome as well. Paying bounties to knock revivals off is bad enough among drug dealers. Among NFL players, it’s just shocking.

That’s what we know thus far. So now, we pray. We fast. We repent. No, this isn’t just Catholic guilt extrapolated into the sphere of sports. Payton and Benson received the same ashes on their foreheads that we did last Wednesday. And those ashes are not an empty symbol. Nor are they just an emotional expression. They are the remains of last years palm branches. They are what is left over after the biggest parade in the church’s liturgy, when Christ rode into Jerusalem and was hailed as a king. We threw just such a parade for these men. Now, we must face the truth and wear the ashes. The difference, of course, is that Christ was innocent when, a week later, he was put on trial. These men may not be. Nonetheless, we must pray for mercy. Yes, pray. They are not just NFL leaders: they are our brothers in Christ. This is the season to love them more than we do during the football season. This is the season to change our ways, to become better and to look to a prize greater than the Lombardi trophy, that perishable crown. Don’t get me wrong. I love football. I am a Saint’s fan. I will remain a Saint’s fan. But, first and foremost, I am a Christian watching my fellow Christians endure tribulation. And I will pray them through it.

About Daniel Lacourrege

Daniel Lacourrege is a 20-something year old theologian living in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It is the best place in the world to be a 20-something. It is the third best place in the world to be a Catholic (Rome & Jerusalem claiming first & second).
His life has become one adventure right after another. Most of them start in a classroom or library, but very few of them finish there. He likes most things, but usually must be in the mood for them. The only thing he is never in the mood for is traffic.
If you feel so moved, you may email him at lacourrege4@archbishopshaw.us.

Comments

  1. I vaguely saw something about this in the paper, but due to my injury I have not been keeping up well with current events. Thank you not only for notifying me of the depravity but of encouraging me to prayer for them.

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