Another Controversial Interference Call for the New Orleans Saints

Apr 24, 2020

The pinnacle of professional American football spans from late January to early February each year with the premiere of the playoffs for the National Football League (NFL) and the Superbowl. Within a matter of minutes, playoff games can bring both uncontrollable excitement and jaw dropping heartbreak, and many fans may be scarred for years by the outcome of their favorite teams’ closest games. For the New Orleans Saints, their most recent quests to the Superbowl have been marred by the unfortunate agony of defeat.

On January 20, 2019, the New Orleans Saints were in a heated battle with the Los Angeles Rams with a ticket to the Superbowl on the line. With under two-minutes to play, the ball-game was tied at 20, and the Saints seemed to have great momentum as they headed towards the end zone. Drew Brees, the Saints veteran quarterback, dropped back to pass to TommyLee Lewis, when Nickell Robey-Coleman plummeted through Lewis before he had a chance to make a play on the ball. It was a blatant pass interference call. Brees knew it. Lewis knew it. Even Robey-Coleman knew it. But there was no whistle, no flag, and no call. The Rams would go on to win the game 26-23.

In true déjà vu fashion, the Saints found themselves in another hotly contested playoff game a year later against the Minnesota Vikings. At the end of regulation, the game was tied 26-26 when the teams headed into overtime. Only 4 yards stood between the Vikings and the end zone, and a touchdown would end another playoff run for the Saints. Kirk Cousins, the Vikings’ quarterback, dropped back to pass to Kyle Rudolph who was being covered by Saints’ cornerback P.J. Williams. On the play, Rudolph extended his arm to gain space between him and Williams, which resulted in a touchdown that put the Vikings on top. There was no whistle, no flag, and no call. The Saints had been hurt again by another controversial call.

Beyond the football field, the New Orleans Saints have now found themselves in yet another questionable interference predicament. Approximately two dozen men who are suing the Roman Catholic archdiocese have argued that the New Orleans Saints football team has aided the church in its “pattern and practice of concealing crimes.” The Saints’ team owner, Gayle Benson, is a devout Catholic who has close ties with New Orleans Archbishop, Gregory Aymond. Benson has also given millions of dollars to Catholic institutions in the New Orleans area. The attorneys representing the men who are suing the church have stated that numerous individuals within the Saints’ organization have emailed and messaged church officials on ways to lessen the impact on the Catholic church’s release of a list of clergy members who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

The special master overseeing the litigation has issued a recommendation stating that, for now, the emails should remain private. In part, the recommendation states that publication of the messages would only “embarrass or bring under public scrutiny” those who tried to help the Archdiocese of New Orleans as it sought to navigate the clergy abuse crisis. The plaintiffs’ attorneys have said that they will file an objection to the special master’s recommendation. The Saints have stated that they have nothing to hide, and the team does not object to the emails being released at a later point in the litigation. The judge presiding over the case has yet to adopt the special master’s recommendation.

The Saints organization previously acknowledged in a court filing that it assisted the archdiocese in publishing the list of credibly accused clergymen, but the organization insists that its actions have been that of disclosure, not concealment. In 2019, a separate litigation involving clergy abuse revealed an October 2018 email exchange between the Saints’ Senior Vice President of Communications and the archdiocese’s communications director. According to the exchange, the archdiocese’s communications director clarified that the church did not want to use the word “support” in referring to victims going to the courts, but rather, the institution would “encourage” them to come forward.

One thing is very clear concerning the Catholic church: any scrutiny that it receives because of its pervasive pattern of concealing several thousand instances of sexual abuse of minors pales in comparison to the irreparable harm and hurt in which survivors have suffered. Releasing the hundreds of emails and messages probably would embarrass the Church, but it should be ashamed for its part in concealing the truth. The qualified attorneys at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz represent survivors of sexual abuse. Please contact us for more information.

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