Champions Square is getting a face-lift. And while the Saints haven’t nailed down every detail, they’ve decided this much: The banner image of cornerback Tracy Porter clinching the 2010 Super Bowl with his late interception return for a touchdown is coming down.
That’s because racing behind Porter, with a gloved index finger raised skyward, is one Darren Sharper — No. 42, a now confessed serial rapist.
“It’s common sense. We don’t even want the perception that that’s an individual we’re celebrating,” Ben Hales, a team executive , said Monday.
The iconic photo hanging behind a palm tree at the right of the Champions Square stage has taken on a darker tinge since Sharper’s guilty pleas in March in Arizona, Nevada and California.
They were part of a “global” deal, with guilty pleas still pending in state and federal courts in Louisiana. Sharper has agreed to serve at least nine more years behind bars for the drugging and rape or attempted rape of nine women across four states.
All of those crimes occurred in 2013 and early 2014, while the former All-Pro safety was retired from football and working as a commentator for the NFL Network.
Hales said other images may also be removed, or at least “freshened up,” in the makeover of the entertainment square outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before a series of big concerts next month.
He was unable to specify any other banners that could be on the chopping block.
“We’re going through some options now. Definitely going will be the Tracy Porter picture,” Hales said. “The shame of it is, that’s an iconic moment from the Super Bowl. People can probably do the TV and radio call in their head. There just happens to be somebody in the background who is not someone our organization or the NFL Network is likely to be celebrating.”
(For the record, the call by Saints radio announcer Jim Henderson was: “It’s picked off! It’s Tracy Porter again! He’s running free! He’s gonna go all the way! Hand outstretched! It is a Saint touchdown! Seventy yards on the return! Seventy yards on the return by Porter!”)
The removal of the iconic image comes five months after federal and state grand juries indicted Sharper on the same day, in the latest scar to the NFL’s image.
There’s no set playbook for how teams or the league deal with current or retired players who face criminal convictions, said Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising, a San Francisco-based sports marketing firm.
“It’s a case-by-case basis. It’s a matter of common sense,” Dorfman said. “I don’t think Sharper was a player that was heavily promoted by the NFL. I would imagine they’re going to cut the cord as quickly and swiftly as possible.”
Indeed, the NFL Network fired Sharper promptly following issuance of an arrest warrant in Los Angeles in March 2014.
He has remained behind bars since then, with details emerging about what appeared to be a well-plotted pattern of drugging women for the purpose of raping them.
“You can’t completely erase him 100 percent from your history, but you can take away any obvious reminders, any imagery that’s out there in the public,” Dorfman added. “Any of that stuff is just going to create an uproar, and you’re just going to anger a lot of your fans.”
The public-relations response varies by team and player, or ex-player. When former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was accused of murder, the team offered a trade-in of his popular jersey. The Baltimore Ravens did the same with running back Ray Rice, who was caught by an elevator video camera cold-cocking his wife.
But the Minnesota Vikings declined a similar move when confronted with child-abuse charges against star running back Adrian Peterson, who has since pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and rejoined the league.
David Carter, a University of Southern California professor of sports business, said the jersey trade-ins have a cleansing effect.
“It’s a very overt statement for the franchise: ‘Not only are we not going to tolerate this, but we’re in this together.’ It does position the franchise as a good community citizen,” he said.
The Saints haven’t gone that far with Sharper.
Unlike Hernandez, Rice and Peterson, Sharper “was not an active player with us when all the legal issues came up and hadn’t been for a few years, so (we) don’t think a trade-in would have been warranted,” Hales said Monday by email.
Prior to joining the Saints in 2009, their Super Bowl season, Sharper played for the Green Bay Packers. He played his last NFL game in 2010, not long after Champions Square opened to the public.
Hales was uncertain whether the team store still sold Sharper jerseys but noted that the team’s role is limited with gear licensed by the NFL.
Carter called it a smart move for the team to make clear to fans what it controls and what it doesn’t.
“But they also need to be careful. They don’t want to be seen as anti-player,” Carter said “Although in this case, 99 percent of the athletes think they do need to disassociate themselves with (Sharper).”
The Champions Square makeover will retain some of the non-football images — including Muhammad Ali landing a right hook to the face of Leon Spinks during a 1978 heavyweight championship fight at the Superdome.
But the weathered decor will be updated with a design that incorporates the Pelicans, and with different lighting effects.
Hales said the decision to redo the square came shortly after the football season and was unrelated to the criminal charges against the team’s former star safety.
He said it’s uncertain what else the team might do to remove the Sharper image.
“I don’t think we’ve gone and scoured through things. We can’t Photoshop him out. You can’t erase the fact anymore than the Vikings or Green Bay or the NFL Network can pretend he was not employed there,” he said.
“We’ve heard a couple of people who have debated it, and people almost feel bad for Tracy Porter. That moment everybody recognizes can’t be celebrated because of somebody in the background.”
If the Saints want to honor Porter, the Internet is awash in images of his signature play that do not feature Sharper.
Attempts to reach Porter on Monday were unsuccessful.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.