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Saints, Pelicans Owner Tom Benson Fights Back, Still Plays Active Role With Teams

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Family drama is never fun and usually winds up turning ugly, especially when it involves money and power.  By now, most of us are familiar with the Benson family turmoil that has taken place over the past week.

New Orleans Saints and Pelicans proprietor Tom Benson made some changes in who will take control of his empire upon his death.  The 87-year-old’s initial plans were to grant ownership of his NFL and NBA franchises to his granddaughter, Rita Benson LeBlanc.

However, last week, Tom announced that he would hand over command to his current and third wife, Gayle.  As expected, the news did not go over so well with his daughter Renee and her two children, Rita and Ryan, who are all now petitioners in a lawsuit filed against their elder relative and mentor.

The suit basically says that the owner is old and incompetent, claiming that the billionaire’s “health and mental capacity have significantly declined” and that he has “fallen under the influence” of his wife.  Following that mess, a Texas judge decided to temporarily freeze Mr. Benson’s assets in the Lone Star State, a place where Tom has a brimming portion of business.

The calamity in the Crescent City all began when Mr. Benson released this statement:

“I have had time to reflect and figure out if we have the ownership succession plan correct after I die, And you know, my wife Gayle is my family too and a very important part of my life.  You just know when the time is at hand to start to really think this through and make sure you have everything covered.

“It was documented that my daughter Renee, my grandson Ryan and of course my granddaughter Rita would have a large part of my estate, upon my death, including the two teams and other assets.  However, this is a decision about the legacy of things that I have built in my lifetime – my family, including Renee, Rita and Ryan, just as they have been – will be very well taken care of after I die.  But to finish my thought, this is based solely on doing what is right.

“I have spent the better part of my life building businesses and as a byproduct of building successful business, I have been fortunate enough in my life to be able to make sizable donations over a long period of time that directly influence my community — the city of New Orleans.  It is what I am most proud of in my life.

“And right behind that is the joy I get watching our fans after we win, and secure championships for our city.  We have tasted that before and we want to provide that again.  For that to continue we need to plan for the future and we need to keep the continuity and stability of what we have built at the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans.  My wife Gayle will ensure this.  Her love for New Orleans and giving back to the community she loves is unmatched,” Benson continued.

“Gayle will own the teams upon my death and as I noted Rita will not be involved in the ownership or management of the Saints or Pelicans,” Mr. Benson said.  “My family, just as they have been for their entire lives, will be well taken care of.  The reason for my decision is about laying the foundation for the organization to continue to be successful.”

The above certainly doesn’t make Mr. Benson sound ‘mental’ and ‘incompetent,’ and while Tom is currently attempting to have the suit filed against him dismissed, team officials and executives claim that he is still an active owner.

Saints team president Dennis Lauscha and general manager Mickey Loomis spoke with The Times-Picayune Tuesday, and said Tom is not a mentally ineffective pushover being manipulated by his wife.  Loomis spoke with The Times-Picayune Tuesday:

“I talk to him every day, just as I have for 15 years.  He talks to me about the same subject matter: The status of the team.  And after the season: What are the issues? How are we going to fix the issues?  Nothing’s changed here.”

QB Drew Brees was approached last week in Arizona during Pro Bowl festivities and was asked about Mr. Benson’s wife.  “All I can say is I absolutely love Gayle,” Brees said.  “I think she’s one of the sweetest people.  I know she’s one of our biggest fans.  Her presence at practice with Tom all the time and the way she treats the wives and the players, she’s first class.”

While Loomis and Lauscha were speaking on the Saints and Pelicans owner Tuesday, Tom’s attorney was in court fighting to have the lawsuit filed against him by his family dismissed.

According to Mike Triplett of ESPN, Benson’s lawyer argued that Renne, Rita and Ryan failed to state a valid cause for the “extreme” and “harsh” accusations.

From Triplett, contributed by the Associated Press:

"“The legal response stated that even if all of their ‘spurious allegations’ were accepted as true, they would still fail to satisfy the legal standards for such a ruling.Furthermore, Benson’s response included documentation that Benson transferred power of attorney over both his medical and business decisions to wife Gayle and Saints/Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha on Jan. 7 in the event that he is no longer able to make such decisions on his own, and that both transactions were witnessed by a physician.A source close to Benson confirmed a Times-Picayune report that the steps Benson took to transfer ownership were videotaped, with lawyers, experts and doctors in his presence, in anticipation of any legal proceedings.And Paul Cordes, who is Benson’s lawyer in matters relating to the family trusts, told The Associated Press that he was with Tom Benson when the clubs’ owner signed a letter explaining that he did not want to have further contact with his daughter or grandchildren and would ban them from team facilities and other business properties.”"

It’s a mess in the city of New Orleans that will likely last for years.  It’s unhealthy for Mr. Benson and can certainly be poisonous to the Saints and Pelicans organizations.  It’s just plain sad, but team officials have his back, which could help eventually close the lawsuit in Tom’s favor.

It seems most of the coaches, executives, players and fan base support Tom Benson’s decision to hand over control to his wife.  Does the city really want a woman (Rita Benson LeBlanc) who has hired and fired over 30 employees and assistants in a span of just a couple years to be in control of these franchises?  In 2012, Rita was removed from all football operations due to the instability in her office.  Again, that’s poison.

As the Benson Family drama continues to unfold, we’ll also carry forward our duties by keeping you up to date, Who Dat Nation.

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