A Morgan City man is suing the New Orleans Saints for a refund on his season tickets because some players have disrespected the national anthem before games this season.
Lee Dragna filed a lawsuit Monday in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna seeking a refund for the tickets as well as attorney’s fees, claiming the protest by some players against police brutality and racial injustice has prevented him and his family from enjoying the games.
Dragna said he hasn’t attended a game since the first home game of the 2017 season against the New England Patriots, on Sept. 17, when he said some of the players did not come out for the singing of the national anthem.
When they did come out, the suit says, “They passed directly in front of where the petitioner and his guests were seated. Many of the fans in that area booed and cursed at the Saints players.”
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“Apparently, these players were following the lead of (former San Francisco 49ers quarterback) Colin Kaepernick by disrespecting the flag, the anthem, the USA and those who have served and are serving the USA in our military,” the suit says.
Dragna, a businessman in Morgan City, said Tuesday that the rowdy, angry reaction of the people around his seats has made the tickets unusable by him and his family, as well as customers he would otherwise give the tickets to.
He said the behavior of some fans upset by the protests — cursing, spilling beer — is “borderline dangerous,” though he said he thinks the responsibility for that behavior ultimately rests not with the fans but with owner Tom Benson.
“The Saints created that behavior by condoning it,” he said.
“It’s my thought pattern that (players) should not be allowed (to protest),” he said. “If you sell tickets to a gaming event for entertainment, you should not be allowed to turn it political.”
Kaepernick and a teammate, Baton Rouge native Eric Reid, began kneeling during the anthem in 2016 to protest the shooting of unarmed African-Americans by police.
Kaepernick sat for the anthem during the 49ers' first preseason game that year, though he and Reid knelt from the second game forward after talking with a former NFL player who was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army and deciding that kneeling would be more respectful.
A few weeks later, news of the protest broke, stirring nationwide controversy. This year, President Donald Trump said on Twitter that team owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem.
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Trump’s tweet triggered a surge in player protests and shows of solidarity around the league, and 10 Saints players sat during the anthem before a game against the Carolina Panthers. The team has since chosen to kneel in unity before the anthem and then stand for it.
Some football fans responded to the protests by burning their team jerseys and memorabilia and posting videos of it on the internet.
Locally, two Saints players saw their invitations to ride in a Slidell Mardi Gras parade rescinded, and a disabled Navy veteran refused to attend a ceremony honoring his advocacy work during a Saints game in November.
On Tuesday, Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said Dragna's lawsuit has been forwarded to the team’s legal department and the organization would have no comment.
Dragna made it clear that disagrees with the players' protests.
“I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that those are their heroes … and it’s OK to do that stuff, especially on TV and especially on your job site," he said. "That can’t be allowed to happen.”
Saints running back Mark Ingram tweeted Tuesday that Saints players protested during the anthem only during the away game against the Panthers.
"After a team meeting we decided to decided to kneel as one BEFORE the anthem was played and STAND united as one DURING the anthem!" Ingram wrote. "Good luck dude," he told Dragna.
Dragna said his suit is far from frivolous or something he’s done for show, calling it “as honest as it gets.”
He said he spent about $8,000 on the tickets, which are about 25 rows back on the 20-yard line. He asked the Saints for a refund and was turned down, he said.
“They don’t even want to talk about this, but I don’t care,” he said. “One way or another they’ll pay.”
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According to some legal experts, however, Dragna would likely be better off reselling his tickets online and opting out of renewal.
“This lawsuit has very little chance of success,” said Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane University’s Sports Law Program. “Fans do not have legal standing or a cause of action simply because they are unhappy with how a team performs or acts on the field. If fans were allowed to sue for breach of contract every time they were disappointed with the performance or conduct of a player, there would be an unending string of lawsuits across the country.”
He added: “An NFL ticket allows you to enter a stadium to watch a football game, but it does not guarantee that the players will act in ways that do not upset you — either athletically or politically.”
Imre Szalai, a law professor at Loyola University and an expert in arbitration, said Saints season ticket holders consented to arbitration through a clause in the fine print.
The organization could ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit and enforce the clause, and private arbitration would eliminate any public relations pressure to settle that might exist in a public courtroom, Szalai said.