NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s picture is plastered on the walls of restaurants throughout New Orleans and he has a float dedicated to him in the Mardi Gras parade.
But the National Football League boss is not winning any popularity contests in the Big Easy in the build-up to Sunday’s Super Bowl.
On the contrary, Goodell remains a derided figure in the biggest city in Louisiana because of the penalties he imposed on the New Orleans Saints over their pay-for-pain bounty scandal.
Posters of him in the restaurants carry a plea to waiters: “Do Not Serve This Man” and the float was a less than complimentary depiction.
But the commissioner, speaking at his annual address on the state of the game on Friday, said he had been treated well during his stay in New Orleans.
“I couldn’t feel more welcomed here,” he said.
”When you look back at my picture, it is in every restaurant. I had a float in a Mardi Gras parade. You’ve got a voodoo doll.
“I‘m serious, the people here have been incredible.”
Goodell became public enemy number one in New Orleans last year when he announced a range of penalties on the Saints after uncovering a system where players were paid bonuses for injuring opponents.
Head coach Sean Payton, and other members of the franchise were suspended following an NFL investigation that found evidence the system had been in place from 2009-2011.
Four players initially suspended by Goodell later had their bans overturned on appeal.
The Saints, Super Bowl winners three years ago, missed the playoffs this season, winning just seven games, ending their hopes of playing in the title game the city is hosting this weekend.
Goodell said he had no objections to the team’s fans portraying him as the villain but reiterated that the Saints had been the architects of their own problems.
“There is no question that there was a bounty program in place for three years,” he said.
“I understand the fans’ loyalty is to the team. They had no part in this. They were completely innocent. I support their passion.”
Editing by Gene Cherry