For Once, John Bel Edwards Says Something Which Is Not Wrong

It has to do with the NFL thing, which we are getting tired of and we sense our readers are beginning to tire of as well. Edwards took the sensible line on the New Orleans Saints’ national anthem protests and noted that the state isn’t going to break its contract to subsidize the team in a media appearance yesterday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he will always choose to stand for the National Anthem, but said the state is obligated to honor its subsidy obligations to the New Orleans Saints, which amount to millions.

Some lawmakers have said they would like to see the Saints subsidies withdrawn after 10 players sat for the National Anthem at Carolina last week.

Edwards is a former Army Ranger.

“The National Anthem and the American flag are symbols of freedom and should unite all of us, despite our differences,” the governor said in a statement. “Having served our country in the military, I will always choose to stand for the National Anthem and encourage others to do likewise.

“We recognize that our fellow citizens have a First Amendment right to express these sentiments. That said, it seems to me there are more effective ways to go about it. I would hope that, as a nation, individuals on both sides of this issue can come together and work to do better.

“In the meantime, the state must continue to meet its contractual obligations with the Saints. We will work with the legislature and other officials to ensure complete transparency as to what those obligations are.”

As we’ve said, the state isn’t going to do away with those subsidies to the Saints, because breaking its contract with the team would end up costing more than the subsidies do. The real issue is what happens in 2022, when the state’s contract with Tom Benson comes up for renewal. Edwards will at least potentially be out of office by then, unless he wins re-election, and if the public sentiment furious with the NFL and the Saints in particular is at a similar pitch in five years as it is now, and if the team’s fan support declines as one may expect, then it would be little surprise that the state would take a much harder line on negotiations with the team.

The Saints were able to bite off a sizable chunk of Louisiana’s treasury during the last round of negotiations which produced the current contract, as they managed some $50 million per year in free rent for the Superdome and other subsidies. There has been an argument, which has been more or less completely debunked, that the millions of public dollars spent on sports facilities and sports teams provides a boon to local economies; nobody really believes that anymore, and the orgy of public dollars spent on ever-more lavish stadia has peaked – the new stadium in Atlanta which replaces a perfectly functional Georgia Dome was probably the high point of the current lunacy.

By 2022 it’s a good bet the trend will be running the other way and the threat – which is that the Saints would become a free agent and look to a San Antonio or Salt Lake City or Portland or Memphis or St. Louis or some other city for a new home unless Louisiana were to shell out for a replacement to the Superdome or increase the subsidy to the team – won’t produce any concrete results. None of those cities are likely to spend a billion dollars on a new stadium to attract an NFL team, and none of them have anything as nice as the Superdome.

That’s the real conversation. Edwards is correct that the knee-jerk idea to hammer the Saints right now and claw back those subsidies isn’t going to happen.

He’s also correct, and well in his lane as governor, to call the Saints out for the national anthem protests. They aren’t appropriate, they’re highly unpopular, and since the Saints are catching a ton of state money the state does get to have a role in how the Saints are representing the public in Louisiana. Chiding Benson for not having control of his twentysomethings and suggesting they engage in more constructive behavior than pissing off the vast majority of people in the state is well within Edwards’ job description as governor.

We’re not going to congratulate him too loudly, because this stuff isn’t difficult to get right. But Edwards didn’t screw it up, as so many other politicians within his party have this week, and that’s not nothing.

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