The New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson commissioned a statute to celebrate the team’s return to the Superdome after Katrina, to be placed on the southwest Plaza Level of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Everything since the commission itself has been nothing but drama.
The statue was unveiled Friday July 27th. It captures the moment that Steve Gleason blocked Michael Koenen’s punt attempt in the opening drive of the first game back after the destruction of Katrina. The most notable feature of the sculpture, aside from the figures’ awkward positions, is the notably blank jersey and helmet of the punter in comparison to the Saints emblazoned regalia of the blocker.
How did that happen?
The moment chosen to represent the rebirth of the city, rather than a moment of pure success, or of glory, or celebration (such as a huddle or TD celebration) was of a punt block. Against the team’s most bitter rival. So, when the Saint’s requested permission to use the Falcons marks from NFL Properties, they in turn reached the GM of the Falcons, Rich McKay. His initial thought was that he didn’t want his team’s logo associated with this positive moment for the Saints, because it was a largely negative moment for his own team. He told NFL Properties that he was leaning against. They agreed, and saw the matter as one that the Saints could approach using only their own logos. In that NFL Properties owns the marks, this was their decision to make.
Saints fans across the world were up in arms. How dare the Falcons “strip their marks from the sculpture.” What “an abomination against a player who was suffering from ALS.” One of my favorite tweets, (not referenced to protect the guilty) proclaimed the Falcons “too chicken to admit they were beaten that day.”
Record books aren’t being scrubbed. Game film is not being burnt. Rather, a team was inclined not to have their logo emblazoned on the side of a statue meant to symbolize their rival’s recovery. A team chose not to be enshrined in a moment of failure at the hands of he who is experiencing “Rebirth.”
When asked for comment, the punter in question (notably now with a third divisional rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) tweeted his support to the other player, while couching his taste for the statue featuring himself being blocked.
Awesome day for an inspirational man in @team_gleason God bless you in your fight partner!! Half of me likes your statue #Lifebeyondsport – @MichaelKoenen
This was met with great rejoicing by those New Orleanders who took to the keyboards, calling Koenen’s tweet “very classy,” “the right perspective,” and “obviously the only correct way to look at it.”
Yes, indeed. Exactly the correct way to look at the situation. Expressing joy and pride in an athlete who is stricken with a terrible illness. While also expressing a dislike for being the subject of the memorializing of a negative moment for himself. Or, EXACTLY WHAT THE FALCONS SAID!
“Obviously the fact they’re honoring the moment is fantastic. We were all there. It was an incredible moment for the city. We kind of looked at it as though we didn’t want necessarily a statue in front of the building that had our marks. Albeit, we all understand how important the moment was for the city and what they had gone through. We all lived in that moment and it was a pretty special thing. Even losing, it was still a pretty special thing. But it was just something that when we talked to the league about it, we said we didn’t think it was appropriate to put the marks on it. Everybody knew what the game was. Everybody knew what the moment was.” – Rich McKay
McKay wasn’t asked to give his opinion by the Saints prior to creating the statue. These quotes were elicited in the wake of the New Orleans outrage. No one in the Falcon’s organization was contacted by the Saints except for the owner, Arthur Blank, who was asked to “overrule the short-sighted” decision. Mr. Blank, to his credit, declined, saying this wasn’t his call to make as neither he nor his organization owned the logos in question.
The Saints fans call the Falcons classless for “denying them” the right to put the Falcons logos on the side of the helmet and the name on the jersey. They cry foul. They moan and whine and say this is the type of behavior they expect out of an organization they despise.
The Falcons organization went out of their way to speak highly of the moment, of the desire to have the statue, and later spoke especially of the Saints player shown, (even though the player and his struggles off the field were not in any way the intention of the statue.)
Gleason, himself, distanced the meaning and inspiration provided by the statue from the two teams involved.
“That statue is not about football,” Gleason, straining to speak because of the effects of ALS, said moments before the formal unveiling on a rain-soaked Friday afternoon. “It’s a symbol of the commitment and perseverance that this community took on before that game.”
So, one must ask, where in fact IS the class in this debate? Who is making the correct decisions and saying the right things?
I believe that no one can debate that the two players shown on the statue are doing so. Steve Gleason. Michael Koenen.
#lifebeyondsport indeed, sir.
The very thing many involved obviously seem to lack.