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Tom Benson scoffs at suggestion he sell Saints, Pelicans

Tom Benson

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2013 file photo, New Orleans Hornets NBA team owner Tom Benson speaks at a news conference announcing that the NBA basketball team’s name will change from the Hornets to the Pelicans, in New Orleans. One of the people most responsible for bringing NBA All-Stars back to the Big Easy this weekend is an 86-year-old man who wasn’t that into basketball for much of his life. He is Tom Benson. And in New Orleans, NBA fans and community leaders are grateful the Pelicans owner finally came around. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson scoffed at a suggestion this weekend that he sell his NFL and NBA teams because of his age and a protracted legal struggle with estranged heirs.

The 88-year-old Benson made his stance known in a written statement disseminated by the team on the same day as a front-page Times-Picayune editorial that stated Benson, as well as the City of New Orleans and Louisiana would be better off if the team was sold to local buyers.

“I rarely respond to preposterous media reports as I understand them to be part of our business,” Benson’s statement said. “However, I respond tonight only for the benefit of our fans. ... They deserve better than to read this scurrilous story, which the editors of the TP decided to blast on the front page.”

“What strikes me the most is the pure irony of the Times Picayune imploring me to sell for the benefit of the city,” the statement continued. “I recall in May, 2012, reaching out to the Newhouse family, imploring them to sell to me or other local ownership as they threatened to become and then became a part-time newspaper. Since then the newspaper has done nothing but layoff (sic) staff and move operations out of town.

“I take great pride in promoting New Orleans as a big league city - securing a record number of Super Bowls, getting naming rights deals for both the Superdome and arena, and infusing millions of tax revenue into our state’s general fund,” the statement said. “This is on top of the large investments I have made in this city, and I will soon announce more major projects.”

Benson, a New Orleans native, announced last January his plan to bequeath power over his pro sports franchises to his third wife, Gayle, instead of his daughter and her two children, who long appeared in line to take over the clubs. Since then, the Benson family has been embroiled in several lawsuits in state courts in both Louisiana and Texas, as well as in federal court in Louisiana. In a Louisiana civil lawsuit, Benson’s estranged heirs have challenged whether their patriarch was mentally competent to change his succession plan. They argued he was being manipulated by his wife and an inner circle of executives.

Benson was ruled competent by a civil district judge. That case is now on appeal.

“I am not selling either team. That is not in my makeup. I am not retiring or stepping aside, while I do appreciate all of the sincere concern for my health,” the statement said. “The legacy of both these teams are still yet to be written and my legacy can be discussed when I am long gone, which by the way is not that important to me right now.

“Another important part of our legacy is continuing to rebuild our city, our hospitals and our schools to make them leading institutions in this country,” the statement said. “My wife, Gayle, and I do not take this for granted and cherish our ability to participate and contribute annually.

Benson’s statement also disputed a suggestion that his role in day-to-day operations in his businesses has declined in recent years.

“I have always been and continue to be in complete control of our teams, and that is not in dispute,” the statement said. “Furthermore, my plan to transfer complete control to Gayle is unassailable and designed to provide the long term stability and resources that all franchises need to produce consistently winning teams.”