I remember when the Saints signed Darren Sharper thinking it was unrealistic to hope he'd be amazing, but I hoped the Saints could at least squeeze whatever gas he had left in the tank. Instead the Saints got a Pro Bowler in 2009, a borderline defensive MVP candidate, a career high tying 9 interceptions and a career high 3 pick sixes to anchor a Super Bowl title team. He would play one more season with the Saints compromised that was largely disappointing, but there is no question what they got out of him in 2009 was free agency eureka. So much so, in fact, that in just one amazing year and one poor one with the team he forever embedded himself in the fabric of the franchise and the city. The canonized status he was able to arrive at in New Orleans is something very few have done. When you consider the amount of time he did it in, it's unprecedented. But now that Sharper is accused of 7 rapes and 11 druggins in 4 states, I have to wonder if that changes things.
To be clear, I root for the Saints… as in the "team". Every individual player, including Drew Brees, will come and go when it is their time and none of them will ever be bigger than the emblem. That is what I root for on Sundays. And sure, it's nice to have guys I generally like on the team. Some guys pushed that allegiance, like Jeremy Shockey and Aaron Brooks to name a few, but if you put the jersey on I rooted for you. Rooting for a guy like Shockey was harder for me that rooting for a guy like Deuce McAllister or Drew Brees. It's nice to have a locker room full of guys that I consider above average in the character department for the NFL. Maybe I'm just naive and biased, but I truly believe the Saints have created an environment that includes superior human beings to the average football team. If you're not a Saints fan and you're reading this you might be quick to point out that in addition to Sharper, you've got Bounty Gate, Vicodin Gate, Joe Morgan's DUI escapade this past summer, Gregg Williams' stint, as some examples of why my statement is crazy. Those are valid things to bring up. But if you've followed the team as close as I have and you've gotten to peek inside the personalities of guys like Scott Shanle, Drew Brees, Scott Fujita, Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Cam Jordan, Pierre Thomas, Zach Strief, Lance Moore, Jonathan Goodwin, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Curtis Lofton, Steve Gleason… just to name a few… you know the roster has been riddled with guys anyone would LOVE to root for since 2006. And that's nice, it makes my job as a fan rooting for the Saints easier. But it's not a requirement.
You see even behind this naive take that I root for a team full of… saints… I just view that as lagniappe. I don't require my sports teams to have players that are all model citizens. To expect that would be idiotic. We're talking about kids a decade younger than me in most cases that have been given more wealth than they'll ever be able to properly manage and have been put on a pedestal by pretty much everyone they've ever met. It's a recipe for ethical extinction. The ones that become good people in an environment like that are special, they are exceptions. Football is entertainment for me and I root for the team. It's great if I can find some guys that I feel clean rooting for, but I'm not losing sleep over some of the off the field antics they might participate in. That's their private lives which are none of my business, and I'm only really interested in what they do on the field.
All that said, I'll be damned if I ever let one man take away the special feeling of the Saints winning the Super Bowl in 2009. Gregg Williams couldn't do it, and Darren Sharper sure as hell won't either. But while I don't expect model citizens or even half way decent people… is it so much to ask that they not be serial rapists? Allegedly. My only real requirement is that I don't have to root for someone with a moral genetic code that is comparable to Jerry Sandusky. I don't think that's too much to ask. Based on what's going on in the news, I may not be given that luxury.
I'm shocked about this story. And for those of you that drop the whole "what do you expect, they are not good people, they are professional athletes…". I draw the line between what every pro athlete does and what Darren Sharper is accused of. Sorry, not in the same ballpark. And while I don't know Sharper personally he was largely loved amongst his peers and respected enough to land a very nice job with the NFL Network. Everyone should be shocked. If any of this is true, he fooled a lot of people. This isn't just some "mistake" that a young athlete with lots of money makes. These alleged crimes are something that happens only when someone is wired to need pain in others to feel pleasure. And on some level that does give me second thoughts rooting for the team he played on. At least it was Tracy Porter that ran back the game winner in Miami, and he didn't have many highlights in the big game.
How do you feel about this as a Saints fan? Does it dampen the thrill of the Lombardi Trophy for you even a little bit?