Why Saints Fans Should Be Relieved Tom Benson Is Mentally Competent
Tom Benson is mentally competent.
At least, he is according to Judge Kern Reese, who ruled on Jun. 18 that the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner was capable of operating and would retain control over both franchises. Benson was taken to court by his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc. The three filed the lawsuit in January, when Benson announced he was cutting ties with his would-be heirs with plans to leave full ownership of the Saints and Pelicans to his wife of 10 years, Gayle Benson. This ruling has positive implications for Saints fans for three reasons.
First, this ruling ensures head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis will remain with the team. Payton requested a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave the Saints if Loomis leaves. It is believed that Payton wanted to include this poison pill in order to avoid dealing with Rita LeBlanc.
As long as Loomis is there to handle Rita LeBlanc and provide a buffer for Payton, the head coach should not worry about being distracted by the front office. Loomis has been reported to be one of Gayle Benson's closest advisors and has continuously expressed support for her management of the team. Loomis is not likely to remain with the team if Rita LeBlanc takes over, and the team would lose an excellent general manager who has consistently managed to save the Saints from salary cap doom while bringing in premier free agents, such as Jairus Byrd and C.J. Spiller.
Furthermore, the ruling allows Gayle Benson to completely inherit the team. The metamorphosis of Tom Benson is not unlike that of Ebenezer Scrooge. When Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans, Benson threatened to move the team to San Antonio, where several of his car dealerships and other business ventures are located. Gayle managed to convince Tom to keep the team in New Orleans, and after the Saints' miraculous 2006 season, he completely committed to remaining in the Big Easy.
Tom followed Gayle's lead and began financing philanthropic projects to help rebuild the city, and fired his granddaughter and supposed heir, Rita, after reports of her skipping work and neglecting her place in the organization surfaced. Gayle has surrounded herself with a team of advisors, ranging from Loomis to the President of the Saints organization, Dennis Lauscha. Saints players have lauded Gayle for her frequent appearances at practice and for emulating "everything Tom Benson has done with the franchise."
Finally, Reese's decision keeps the organization out of Rita LeBlanc's control. Rita LeBlanc has reportedly gone through thirty personal assistants in the last six years, and has a reputation for dragging out projects that should have been completed in a short amount of time. Her former assistants have claimed that she was often missing from the office and compared her to Miranda Priestly, the villainous editor of Lauren Weisberger's book, The Devil Wears Prada.
Tom Benson writing LeBlanc out of his will is his attempt to avoid the obstacles other teams have faced when an entitled family member takes over the team. One team that fits this description is the San Francisco 49'ers. Jed York, current 49'ers CEO and operating head of the franchise, replaced former head coach, Jim Harbaugh, this past offseason. Fans criticized the move, as Harbaugh was primarily responsible for bringing the team from mediocrity to back to back NFC Championship games. Benson changing his will is a smart move to avoid mismanagement of the team.
The judge's decision culminates a six month controversy between members of the Benson family and allows Payton and Loomis to focus on the issues on the field. While it is unclear if Benson's daughter and grandchildren will appeal the decision, fans should be assured hat the team is in good hands when the Saints come marching in this fall.