TAKING A STAND: Who Dat Fans Will See Saints Tackle More Social Issues This Season

Photo Credit: British Eurosport (Original Photo via Henry Browne)

The upcoming 2020 NFL Season for the New Orleans Saints is already starting to shape up to become one that eventually will be remembered by passionate and loyally-devoted members of the franchise’s “Who Dat Nation” fan-base, for a very long time.

That’s not only just because the Black and Gold will be one of the top contenders to win the Super Bowl this year, but also because a notable group of players who are popular among fans on the team’s current roster are “taking a stand” — as they have become recognized as leaders or ’emerging voices’ within both the NFL and the world of professional sports — on the social justice issues which recently have risen to the forefront of our nation’s attention.

And since those issues are among the many problems which need to be addressed in order to either inspire or finally bring about much-needed change within our culture and society, it’s the exact reason why Who Dat fans will see the Saints tackle those issues extensively once the season kicks off in 2 more months from now.

A time of change is currently descending upon our nation within culture and society, and one that hopefully in due time eventually will become one for the better.

Just last night the start of that cultural change became evident in the world of sports, when a large group of players from the MLS (Major League Soccer) collectively took the field prior to the start of a game between Orlando vs. Miami (Orlando City SC vs. Inter Miami CF) at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

Players from both teams took a knee along the midfield circle, while all around them the MLS group Black Players for Change raised gloved fists in a “Black Power” salute reminiscent of legendary 1960’s athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ gesture during the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Many of those very same players wore T-shirts with phrases printed on them, such as “Black and Proud,” “Black All the Time”, and “Silence is Violence”; and they all wore protective cloth face-masks which were colored black and were covered in the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in white lettering.

It’s this very type of demonstration that sports fans can anticipate seeing in all of the major sports leagues moving forward, and certainly one that you as a Saints fan can fully expect, before every one of the Black and Gold’s 16 scheduled games this upcoming season.

That’s mainly because when it comes to activism and support for the various issues affecting the state of Social Justice at the moment, perhaps no one team in any of the various sports leagues have as many players collectively devoted to its efforts, than the New Orleans Saints do.

A handful of Saints players such as linebacker Demario Davis, defensive end Cam Jordan, wide receiver Michael Thomas, running back Alvin Kamara, safety Malcom Jenkins, and offensive tackle Terron Armstead among several others; have remained fully engaged throughout this off-season in ensuring that multiple aspects of long-overdue Social Justice are advocated and in some instances, will eventually become law.

(Photo Credit: Edwin Goode, WVUE-TV – FOX8 New Orleans)

Among those issues, the most prominent one that they’ve all supported unanimously has been an end to the systemic racism that has adversely affected Black citizens and people of color for centuries.

The recent protests of the past few weeks which have been championed in particular by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, have led to a monumental shift in how race-relations are now being seen and viewed throughout the country.

That “shift” so to speak, has occurred ever since the Floyd Murder was brought to our current culturally-divided nation’s undivided attention, following what those within the movement note has been many decades of mistreatment that have further been perpetuated by the use of excessive force and brutality by a handful of police departments throughout the nation.

That’s led to the demand of defunding police departments throughout the nation, particularly in major cities or certain regions of the country where law enforcement has been viewed unfavorably in the past (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and now Minneapolis).

But for the Saints players as well as those within the organization who have championed these very issues for many years and even in some rare instances for multiple decades, the growing sentiment among a majority of American citizens — whether they’re Black, White, or whatever racial or ethnic heritage and background that you want to mention in their place — has to have served as an affirmation that their voices are now being heard.

Several players have since expressed their thoughts and opinions of the events, specifically Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins; who’s considered to be a social justice “warrior” and has been been very proactive (and rather vocal) when it comes to the matter of protecting the rights of others and his desire to see changes made that elevate the lives of Black and Brown people.

Clearly their hopes for long over-due societal and cultural change should have been reinforced recently by none other than the man that Saints fans hate the most: NFL Commissioner (and alleged ‘Who Dat hater”) Roger Goodell.

With the apparent blessing from Goodell, the League has been very open and accepting now of the recent “Black Lives Matter” protests that have been happening worldwide in the wake of the Floyd murder by Minneapolis Police officers on May 25th.

Photo Credit: Zennie Abraham

The NFL has received backlash for their handling of racism in the past few seasons, following the events that surrounded former San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick; who as every sports fan knows, first famously “kneeled” during the playing of the national anthem before a Preseason game in 2016.

Initially, Goodell didn’t seem to like the idea of Kaepernick “disrespecting” the national anthem following his kneeling prior to the start of those Preseason games nearly 4 years ago, and said in a statement back during that time not long after Kaepernick’s actions; that he was completely against such public displays of formal protest.

“We (the NFL) believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that. I think it’s important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better”, Goodell stated at that time, according to USA Today

Kaepernick was then eventually “black-balled” or essentially forced out of the League, as owners and teams that disagreed with his political viewpoints openly pushed behind-the-scenes to ostracize him or make him an undesirable player and “trouble-maker” that nobody would want to sign to a contract.

Photo Credit: John G. Mabanglovera, Associated Press

Nevertheless since that time, many players from different sports have followed in Kaepernick’s footsteps and have kneeled prominently in a public setting during the national anthem; including the Saints team themselves in back-to-back road games (and both victories) against the Carolina Panthers and the Miami Dolphins in the early part of their 2017 Season.

However now with the events of the past few months and with their 2020 Season now only just two more months away, Goodell and company have had a rather apparent “change of heart”.

With the untenable situation that our nation now finds itself in, Goodell has completely changed his entire tone on the matter of Social Justice, and now says that he regrets having not listened to Kaepernick and others at the beginning about racial inequality, according to an exclusive report by the LA Times.

That report notes that some believe that some people ‘behind-the-scenes’ — including several prominent former NFL superstars and Hall of Fame “living legends” — highly suggested and encouraged the Commissioner to formally apologize to Kaepernick personally; and readily admit that the NFL was wrong for the manner in which they ultimately handling his protest.

Goodell then took the initiative to give his personal condolences and well-wishes to the families who have been personally affected by police brutality, and then additionally he also expressed his remorse for not having listened to the players before about racial inequality (in this video right below that Goodell had posted to the NFL’s official Twitter page.

“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” Goodell said with a tinge of regret in his voice.

“Without black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protest around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality, and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans, and staff.”

As the start of Training Camp looms in the weeks up ahead for the Saints and the NFL’s other 32 teams; the League aside from its preparations for the handling of safety protocols for the players with regard to the on-going coronavirus / COVID-19 health crisis, the NFL is also simultaneously going well out of its way to make their fans aware that they fully support the police brutality protests and the fight for equality.

Photo Credit: Barry Hirstius, Big Easy Magazine

Earlier within this past week they announced that they will be considering the option of allowing players to use and wear decals and patches on their uniforms, that represent the end to various social injustices such as the act of police brutality, racial discrimination and other social issues that might arise this coming season.

Another change that’s being considered but has come under fire by a large portion of critics, is a recently well-publicized reported that the NFL will now begin playing play what’s become known and recognized as “the Black National Anthem”: the legendary poem which famously went on to become a song and a representation of all Black Americans titled “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”.

The song has been well-respected and revered for many decades for its power in voicing a cry for liberation and affirmation for African-American people.

According to Bleacher Report, the playing of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” would occur right before the playing of the  long-time national American anthem “The Star Spangled Banner”, before each game.

That said, Saints All-Pro linebacker Demario Davis during an interview this past weekend told Sports Illustrated / “Jets Country” writer Kristian Dyer that although he’s happy to see something such as the “Black National Anthem” get equal billing, there are still more pressing matters of Social Justice that he wants to see remain at the forefront of the current national spotlight.

“I believe the thought of playing the song comes with good intentions. But what matters most is that we address the issues that are plaguing black communities including racism and all forms of systematic injustice,” Davis said to Dyer.

Demario Davis
Photo Credit: Demario Davis

In their conversation, Davis also specifically mentioned several key issues that he hopes will be addressed during the course of the upcoming 2020 NFL Season, including police brutality, addressing the nation’s past problems involving racism, addressing poverty in Black communities, and several other prominent issues that previously have prevented any substantial equality or progress.

Nevertheless, these most recent developments (specifically Goodell and the NFL now throwing their full support behind the various issues of Social Justice) are a huge boost for those Saints players that wanted to see the NFL finally “stand up” and provide them with some much-needed assistance in the fight against the long-standing existence of systemic racism.

In a free and democratic society where injustice still remains in a day and age when such things are now starting to be viewed negatively with each passing day, the NFL appears to now finally be trending in the right direction.

That’s become evident given their rather notable decision to now begin showing their support of the “Black Lives Matter” / BLM movement — and to clearly state that there is no room whatsoever for racism in the sport of Pro Football — a new viewpoint which undoubtedly has been received with open arms by all Black athletes across the world of sports and especially within the NFL, including the Saints themselves.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on YouTube.com (Original Credit via Brett Duke)

You can definitely believe that all of the Saints players mentioned above (if not more), will be using their public platforms as well-known professional athletes to continually advocate for change.

That’s not only among just the group of Saints players who have been advocating for change over the course of the past few months, but the entire team which includes head coach Sean Payton (who has always been supportive of their efforts), as well as the recently-converted starting QB and future NFL Hall of Famer Drew Brees.

Brees continues to endure the overwhelming amount of vitriol and criticism from Saints fans on both “sides” of the political spectrum, who feel that the franchise’s greatest player of all-time is either guilty of harboring questionable views on Social Justice; or just simply has yielded to the pressure of the changing times.

Many Who Dats still are directing insults at Brees throughout various Social Media websites because they feel that the 41-year old Saints “living legend” has essentially  ‘sold out’ his true beliefs, to appease his teammates of African-American heritage as a way to demonstrate his personal support for their efforts.

Whether that’s the case or not, you can rest assured that Brees himself will be among those Saints who will show their unwavering support for the Social Justice issues being championed and promoted by their respective teammates.

That likely won’t be viewed very favorably among the portion of Saints fans who aren’t too thrilled about the likelihood that the team’s upcoming 2020 Season, will largely be overshadowed by the current state of events in the weeks and months ahead.

Those Who Dats in particular have made their personal feelings rather clear on a variety of Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; that they believe the team and organization as a whole should refrain from mixing sports with politics or in this case specifically, major Social Issues that potentially could cause a series of distractions that ultimately would kill their entire season.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on Twitter.com (Original Credit via Mark Zaleski)

However, with the entire country now standing at the doorstep of a very significant point in our nation’s storied history, it seems rather unlikely that those fans will get their wish.

The United States of America is likely about to experience (if it hasn’t already) an entire cultural revolution, and that means that the time for change that the Saints’ socially-conscious players were seeking, will remain a part of their focus while also still making mental and physical preparations for the season ahead.

Collectively, they are “taking a stand” — and their ’emerging voices’ can help to inspire a much-needed time for change within our nation — a time of change that hopefully in due time, will become one for the better….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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