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NFL

You Can’t Take The Saints With You, But You Can Sure Spite The Heirs In The Process

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 28: Owner Gayle Benson of the New Orleans Saints walks on the field prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

When New Orleans Pelicans and Saints owner Gayle Benson announced that she intends to have the football team sold upon her death, with the money going to local charities and the new buyer contractually bound to keep the team in town, it came across like a rare noble gesture among a class of wealth that has mostly operated on the theory that yes, you damned well can take it with you.

In fact, she was quoted in Jeff Duncan’s Nola.com story as refuting precisely that manner of estate planning. “I can’t take it with me,” she said, causing Jerry Jones to contemplate a coronary thrombosis. “God gives us gifts, and this is a gift. I am a steward for this [organization]. And we help other people with it. My wish is to scatter all the good and gifts that God and Tom have given me to this city and community.”

But like everything else, the devil in the dispersal of God’s gifts is found in the details. Her late husband Tom, the car dealer who bought both teams, left no piece of either of them to either his daughter or her children (Benson’s grandchildren) by name. They never got along with Gayle, his third wife, or she with them (an 8.8 on the understatement meter), and Benson eventually disowned his daughter and cut them all out of the will. Yes, that includes the Faubourg (née Dixie) Brewing Company, which is more New Orleans than either Drew Brees or Zion Williamson could ever have managed.

But you know the game. Standard rich folks trying to run the bidness from the spa in Hell is nothing out of the ordinary.

So Gayle Benson, whose murky role providing the Archdiocese of New Orleans with public relations and other aid in fighting sex abuse charges filed against 57 clergymembers made her infamous but otherwise untouched legally, is seeing to it that a triviality like death won’t impede her from making sure the heirs don’t get it either, because Tom’s side of the family is out and her side is free of claimants. Technically, the kid and grandkids have until March 23 to contest the plan, but it is considered a long shot. Tom will have won, Gayle will look magnanimous doing it, and so it goes. No good deed comes without the need for a receipt.

To be fair, this is a smoother NFL succession plan than most, at least in that there has been no legal ambiguity about who gets what. To be fairer still, it has the feel of Gayle sticking it to the younguns and grandyounguns because spite has an impressive shelf life, and it very much speaks to the nebulously religious definition of forgiveness. Watching rich folks move their money from the beyond is an underrated pastime, and Gayle Benson has taken names and kicked arse, with a press release and a smile.

Do the kids have a claim here? Legally, probably not. Morally, maybe even less than that. After all, it’s not really their money until Judge Johnny Probate says otherwise. But the idea that bygones aren’t always bygones when the principal actor becomes bygone is still a fascinating notion, not to mention the fact that Gayle can always change her mind on the staying-in-Louisiana part as long as she’s still around. Saying it and playing it are two entirely different things, and unlike Gail Miller, the former Utah Jazz owner who sold her late husband’s team but only with the stipulation that it could never leave Salt Lake City, until this one is done, it’s not done at all.

Besides, there is still the chance that New Orleans might move before the Saints or Pelicans do, and that has more to do with our planet’s tetchy meteorology than anything the Battlin’ Bensons can invoke from Marie Laveau.