Letter to the NFL from SNAP regarding the New Orleans Saints

Dear Commissioner Goodell,

Less than a week out from the NFL’s premier event, a storm in Louisiana is disrupting what should be the celebration of another season. As survivors of clergy sexual abuse and advocates for victims, we are turning to you to help weather this tempest.

As you no doubt know, court proceedings have revealed that an NFL owner used NFL resources to thrust her team into the middle of a battle for transparency, dignity, and safety. By using New Orleans Saints personnel to not only advise Catholic officials from the Archdiocese of New Orleans on how to spin the release of a list of abusers, but also to help shape that the list, Saints owner Gayle Benson has dragged the NFL into an issue that is far beyond the league’s scope and boundary.

According to attorneys for survivors of clergy abuse in New Orleans, “the Saints appear to have had a hand in determining which names should or should not have been included on the pedophile list.” It is beyond disturbing that the owner of an NFL team used her power and position to shape public knowledge about child abusers. Mrs. Benson and her team have no expertise, training, nor standing to be involved in this issue. Despite that, the power wielded by an NFL owner is substantial and that power appears to have been used in this case to help keep abusers hidden and prevent survivors from receiving justice, both of which may actively put today's children in harm’s way.

As advocates and survivors, our mission is to make sure that we are supporting victims and keeping the vulnerable safe from harm. In this situation, the Saints have actively worked against that mission. This is directly contrary to the NFL’s values of respect and integrity, and we cannot imagine that this situation is something that the NFL wants to be dealing with, especially on the eve of its largest and most important event.

We implore you to use the power of your office to show that the NFL is an ally to survivors instead of the adversary that the Saints have been. As Commissioner of the NFL, you have significant power to achieve this goal. We have a couple of suggestions for you:

  1. The NFL’s constitution enables you to suspend owners and fine them up to $500,000 for “conduct detrimental to the welfare of the league.” We would encourage you to levy this fine and earmark its use for organizations that actively work to prevent abuse and support survivors, both those abused by clergy as well as those hurt in the context of sports. Some organizations that you could consider include The Army of Survivors, Bishop Accountability, the New Orleans Family Justice Center, and SNAP.
  2. As commissioner of the world’s most profitable sports league, your public presence and public statements can have a profound impact and reach. You could make a public statement expressing support for survivors and condemning the institutional secrecy that allows sexual abuse to thrive. Your words matter and a show of support for survivors in this way would mean much and more to thousands of wounded people who follow the NFL.

In many ways, this situation reminds us of that faced by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver when he had to deal with the racism exhibited by former Clippers owner Donald Sterling. When an owner sticks their neck out to take an archaic stand on social justice issues, it is incumbent on the league itself to show that its mission and values are more than just words on paper. We hope that you will follow in Commissioner Silver’s footsteps by taking quick action to reaffirm the NFL’s commitment to its fans and public, and not let the actions of a rogue owner stain the shield and what it stands for.

We would be happy to speak with you or representatives from your office. Our New Orleans Leader is a survivor, lifelong Saints fan, and proud season ticket holder. We are confident that there are other victims like Kevin, who would benefit from intervention by the NFL, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Respectfully,

Zach Hiner

Executive Director, SNAP

Kevin Bourgeois

SNAP New Orleans

Richard Windmann

SNAP Louisiana


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