Saints Panthers Football

New Orleans Saints players sit on the bench during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) ORG XMIT: NCCB101

Bob Leverone

Some Louisiana legislators are pushing for a review of the incentives that the state gives the New Orleans Saints, after several players refused to stand during the national anthem on Sunday as part of a coordinated protest against social injustice and criticism from President Donald Trump about NFL activism.

State Rep. Kenny Havard, a St. Francisville Republican, said he thinks the state should outright nix the lucrative perks that it gives the Saints to keep the NFL franchise in New Orleans, while Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, has requested that a legislative hearing be held to review the inducements.

Not seeing the video below? Click here.


"If it's a state-subsidized sporting event, that's not the place to protest," Havard said in an interview Monday. "People watch football on Sundays to get away from all the politics — to turn it on and have to watch this is, to me, embarrassing and it's hurting the NFL."

Louisiana agreed in 2009 to cover $85 million in upgrades to the Superdome and enter into an ongoing lease of office space from Saints owner Tom Benson as part of a larger deal that runs through 2025. Under a previous agreement that expired in 2010, the team received $23.5 million in yearly cash incentives from the state with few strings attached.

"We're renting the Benson tower space as a way to subsidize them – it's above the appraised value," Havard said. "Most of the people who've called me didn't know that the Saints were getting money from the state."

NFL players across the country have been taking part in "take a knee" protests against racism as the "Star Spangled Banner" is played before games this season, prompting Trump, during a rally Friday in Alabama, to call for team owners to fire any "son of a bitch" who "disrespects our flag." He also urged fans to "leave the stadium" if they see players engage in such protests.

That set off a larger league-wide protest that bubbled over and hit home on Sunday.

Ten Saints players sat on the bench during the national anthem, and four others stood near the group in a show of support before the team's win at Carolina.

Benson, a military vet, and Saints coach Sean Payton have expressed support for the players, as well as respect for the flag and the anthem.

Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District Chairman Kyle France said he had no comment on Havard's proposal.

A spokesman for Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is an Army veteran, said that he also had no comment on the legislators' concerns or the debate over the protests.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office didn't respond to a request for comment, and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican whose office oversees state tourism efforts, was traveling Monday and unable to comment.

State Rep. Randal Gaines, a New Orleans Democrat and vice chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he thinks it's appropriate for the legislature to review the generous incentives that it offers to businesses, but he thinks that the backlash over the NFL players' protest shouldn't be the driving factor behind it.

"I don't think a proposal that clearly seeks retribution for someone exercising a constitutional right should gain a lot of support," he said.

He said that he feels that the latest threats to the Saints incentives are an attack on the players' First Amendment rights.

"I think it's inconsistent and contradicts the principles on which this country was founded," he said "The American flag is a symbol of those principles."

Meanwhile, state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, derided Havard's proposal on social media.

"Y'all worried about Trump, I'm worried about my colleagues who believe as he believes," James posted on Instagram. "I can't wait to get my hands on this damn bill!!!!! Not surprised we will have the discussion."

Havard said he has received mostly positive feedback, though.

"I hope it starts a conversation," he said. "If you're going to receive tax dollars then you don't need to be political. I don't care who it is."

He said that his issue is the form of protest, which he sees as "disrespecting the national anthem" and an affront on the nation's military.

"We can disagree about social injustice," Havard said. "But if we can't all get behind that flag and that anthem, then our country is way too far gone."

"If that can't bring us together, then I don't know what can," he added.

Havard most recently drew wide-spread attention last year, when he drafted legislation to ban strippers who are overweight or over the age of 28, as lawmakers discussed a bill meant to address human trafficking. Havard later defended his proposed amendment as a "joke."

Hodges has asked that the Joint Legislative Budget Committee review the Saints' incentive deal when it meets next month.

"We will not tolerate blatant disregard for the flag and the lives of so many men and women who have died defending our country," Hodges said in a statement. "I have to wonder, if they will not pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, who is their allegiance to?”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.