Who Dats find creative ways to protest Payton's punishment

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wwltv.com

Posted on March 24, 2012 at 10:51 AM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS- Even before she gets out of her car, it's obvious Tina Howell is a huge Saints fan. Her license plate, "S8TS FAN," says it all.

"I'm probably one of the biggest Saints fans in the area," says Howell. "Season ticket holder and I've been a supporter for many, many years, as long as I can remember."

When news broke of coach Sean Payton's year long suspension for the bountygate scandal, Howell wanted to find a way to make her voice heard.

And so, she decided to send NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a message in a way he may have never seen before: with a pack of gum.

 "Everybody knows Juicy Fruit is Coach [Payton's] gum of choice," said Howell.

That's why Howell started Operation Juicy Fruit, a Facebook event asking Who Dats to send Goodell a pack of gum, and a message.

 "Just write a little note that says Free Sean Payton," said Howell. "Basically just telling Commissioner Goodell that he needs to reconsider Sean Payton's suspension."

In less than 48 hours, it's gone viral, with more than 1,500 joining the event. 

"I think it shows that, number one, New Orleans and Saints fans are a community, that we stand by one another, and we support one another," said Howell. "But it also shows that one person can make a difference and that once voice can multiply into thousands of voices."

It's just one part of the growing Free Payton movement protesting the coach's suspension.

"Free Payton" t-shirts are flying off the shelves so fast in stores throughout the metro area, it's unprecedented. Fleurty Girl has sold 2,000 since Wednesday.

 "We're completely blown away by the way the shirts are moving. We've actually had to quadruple our initial order," said Fleurty Girl sales representative Pam Fields.

An online petition to free Sean Payton and  reduce his suspension has already garnered more than 5,800 signatures, surpassing the target number of 5,000. The petition has already been faxed to Goodell's office.

Another petition to boycott Superbowl 47 in protest had over 1,600 signatures at the time of this publication.

"I know most people aren't going to boycott the Superbowl," said local petition creator Ralph Dunne. "But it's one way to show our support to Coach Sean Payton."

"You just have to have something you believe in and at the end of the day that's what it's about," said Howell.

Saints fans like Howell are showing they're more determined than ever to keep the faith and continue to believe.

Howell said she hopes Goodell will contact her personally when he recieves her letter. She's considering asking that once the packs of gum have made their point, they be shipped to troops overseas.

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