The past year has been a trying time for America. With police officers having shot and killed over 800 victims, 43 of which were unarmed, the country has seen an unnerving racial divide between African-American men and police officers. Fortunately, the New Orleans Saints and former NFL running back, Warrick Dunn, are looking to mend the still fresh wounds by uniting both sides.
On July 5th, 2016, Alton Sterling, an African-American and Baton Rouge native male was shot and killed by at least one police officer, according to The New York Times. After a video of Sterling’s murder went viral, it sent shockwaves not only through the state of Louisiana, but through the country as a whole. Then, not less than two weeks later, three police officers were killed by Gavin Long, an African-American male who openly expressed his frustration with police killings of African-Americans, in Baton Rouge, shaking the city to its core.
This hit all too close to home for Warrick Dunn, whose mother was a police officer killed while on duty. Dunn, whose NFL career spanned 11 years playing for both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons, made it his mission to bring unity at a time when it was sorely needed. Being from Baton Rouge, Dunn used his connections in the NFL to partner with the New Orleans Saints in order to help ease tensions in Louisiana. And what greater way to do so than through one of Louisiana’s greatest prides?
The Saints and Dunn invited both Cameron Sterling–Alton Sterling’s 15-year-old son–and Dechia Gerald–wife of fallen police officer Matthew Gerald–to attend both the Saints practice meeting as well as the team’s game against the Carolina Panthers.
In a video aired on the NFL Network documenting the hopeful meeting, Dunn shared his thoughts on the situation and his motivation, stating, “I understand the issues of being a young black man in the community, but I also know that there’s a lot of great police officers. My mom was that type of person. People can unite and put their differences aside. We do it all the time on the football field.”
After the Saints’ practice meeting, Sean Payton, the team’s head coach, brought Dunn, Sterling and Gerald onto the field and reminded them of their similarities. “There’s three things you have in common: You’re from Baton Rouge, you’re Saints fans and you lost loved ones to gun violence.”
This somber moment reflects the tight and powerful community that makes up Louisiana. Regardless of the pain and frustration that is being experienced by many, the close-knit people of New Orleans and the surrounding area can always count on the Saints to bring them together.
This isn’t the first time the Saints have eased the pain of tragedy in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina rocked “The Big Easy” in 2005, killing almost 1,500 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless, one moment managed to lift the spirits of an entire city. On September 25, 2006, while the city was still recovering, then Saints safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt from the Saints’ rival, the Atlanta Falcons. This single play gave hope and spirit back to the devastated city of New Orleans and was, in many respects, a well-deserved rebirth.