The New Orleans Saints are no strangers to controversy. From the Bountygate saga that paid players to intentionally injure their opposition to Drew Brees’s inexplicable inability to keep his foot out of his mouth, Saints fans usually take a deep breath before clicking on one of their team’s headlines. But recent reports reveal that the Saints might have played a role in something far more disturbing than any of their previous scandals.
The New Orleans Saints’ involvement with the Catholic Church
Rumors have swirled through most of 2020 about the extent to which the New Orleans Saints organization assisted the Catholic Church in their defense against sexual assault allegations. In January, the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated reported that hundreds of emails between the team and the church had been exchanged in the years leading up to 2020.
These emails have been at the heart of court battles since, with the Saints maintaining that they’ve only advised the church to be honest.
The most generous reading of the facts is as follows. New Orleans is a city where both the Catholic Church and the NFL team are very popular. It only makes sense that one would go to the other for help with PR. The Saints were able to — completely above board — advise the Catholic Church on how to freely admit to their errors in the past and provide help to those affected.
Why the Saints are hiding email records
However, this doesn’t explain the secrecy of the emails or the effort to keep them under wraps. A much more likely (and chilling) scenario is that the New Orleans Saints provided help to the Church in order to cover up the facts.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans was required to release a list of clergy “credibly accused” of sexual assault. Emails between the Archdiocese and the team show that the effort may have trended more toward keeping the list secret.
The official Saints website published a statement when the news broke in January, maintaining that their help was only PR advice. “The advice was simple and never wavering,” the statement claimed.
“Be direct, open, and fully transparent, while making sure that all law enforcement agencies were alerted.” But nearly 300 emails are still under wraps, and the team is fighting hard to make sure they stay that way.
It’s possible that those emails could exonerate the Saints in this situation, but that’s a very optimistic viewpoint.
What this could mean for the future of New Orleans
With a developing story like this, it’s difficult to draw any concrete conclusions. In the legal system, the New Orleans Saints deserve the benefit of the doubt, of course.
But in the NFL fandom, it’s fair to start wondering if perhaps this is the misstep that finally brings some sort of retribution down on the New Orleans team. The team battled back from Hurricane Katrina and provided a rallying cry for a city in pain, but that may not protect them from what comes next.
The Saints were a perennial playoff contender through Drew Brees’s tenure, and even captured the Lombardi Trophy in 2009. With Jameis Winston backing up Brees beginning this season, New Orleans should be secure in the strength of their football team for years to come.
A strong group of personnel and one of the best home-field advantages in the league will give the team everything they need to succeed into the 2020s.
But some things are bigger than football. Many NFL players have run into personal or legal issues, but gone onto successful careers anyway. Some even transitioned to other sports and found success there. But there’s a difference between committing a crime and covering one up, and the Saints may find that out the hard way.