Something Shakespearean is brewing in the Big Easy.
Tom Benson, the 87-year-old owner of the NFL and NBA franchises in New Orleans, announced a decision Wednesday to alter his will in favor of his third wife, Gayle Benson, 67, who is now set to receive ownership of the Saints and the Pelicans instead of Rita Benson LeBlanc, his granddaughter and “handpicked successor,” according to the Times-Picayune.
Benson said the move was made to “ensure the long-term stability and success” of his sports businesses in New Orleans. Last year, the Saints announced a succession plan that gave Renee Benson, Tom’s only living child, a 60 percent controlling interest, and Renee’s children, Benson LeBlanc and her brother Thomas Milton Benson, 20 percent stakes.
In a lawsuit released less than 24 hours after Benson’s original announcement, the owner’s daughter and grandchildren allege his wife to be a gold-digger preying on their paterfamilias, whose mental facilities are slipping. According to the Associated Press, the petitioners assert Tom Benson “recently answered ‘Ronald Reagan’ when asked to identify the current U.S. president – and he’s being manipulated by his wife of 10 years.”
Within the 27-page document submitted to a civil district court, the Benson’s former heirs and their attorneys draw a picture of Benson as a “savior” of the sports franchises in New Orleans and devoted family man who has worked for years to keep his business interests in the family before old age and medical procedures have left him “heavily medicated” and “having difficulty thinking.”
The petition introduces Gayle Benson as “a divorcee nearly 20 years younger than Tom Benson” who approached her prospective husband within months of the death of his second wife, Grace Marie Trudeau Benson. The report mentions “Gayle had no interest in football, basketball, or in sports in general, before marrying Tom Benson” and “prior to meeting Tom Benson, Gayle was in significant debt.”
In a subsection titled, “The Coup Begins: Dramatic Changes In Access and Operations,” Gayle is described as removing photographs of Benson’s family from the increasingly senile owner and monitoring everyone who cares for him or even speaks to him.
On the other hand, The Times-Picayune reported in April 2012 that Benson LeBlanc was forced to serve unofficial paid administrative leave imposed by her grandfather, noting she was conspicuously absent from an event celebrating the family’s purchase of the Pelicans (nee Hornets) for a “pattern of behavior that needed to be corrected.”
Saints players Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham have publicly expressed support for Gayle Benson, but the internet has not been as kind.
In short, out with Bounty Gate and #DeflateGate. In with the #IllWill.