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EVOLUTION OF POWER: Saints Owner Gayle Benson Earning Respect as Most Powerful Woman in Pro Sports

If the writers and analysts that cover professional sports throughout the National Media haven't finally learned by now, they are taking a big risk by "throwing shade" at the city of New Orleans and either one of its two teams, the NFL's Saints and the NBA's Pelicans; and their owner, 72-year old NOLA native Gayle Benson.

Though affable, sweet, polite, and well-mannered in her daily interactions with both employees and fans alike, Mrs, Benson is also a very FIERCE competitor whose main goal is to bring as many championships to her beloved hometown as possible — but as several talking heads on networks such as ESPN and FOX Sports have found out for themselves in recent days: you'd best not do anything to upset or harm either franchise or the people of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana — if you don't want to get your ass handed to you (in the figurative sense) by the classy lady who slowly but surely is evolving into the most powerful woman in all of Pro Sports (as it was duly noted yesterday by none other than Saints News Network owner and founder Kyle T. Mosley).

As it turns out however, the latest story that was circulating throughout the sports headlines yesterday that Mrs. Benson had instructed the newly-hired management of the NBA basketball Pelicans to purposely refuse to engage in any potential trade offers from the Los Angeles Lakers for disgruntled young veteran superstar Anthony Davis "over her dead body", was proven untrue and outright debunked by Mrs. Benson herself.

(Layne Murdoch Jr., New Orleans Pelicans)

However, it should also be noted:

Given how the Pelicans franchise has endured several months of criticism for the way that they handled the Davis situation and the obvious tampering tactics that were utilized by the Los Angeles Lakers organization in their concerted efforts to lure Davis to 'Hollywood' to play alongside fellow NBA superstar LeBron James prior to the NBA Trade Deadline in February, it was a comment that one very easily could envision her making.

The whole issue with the Pelicans aside, Mrs, Benson — who grew up as a young girl in Algiers; which is across the Mississippi River on the "West Bank" of New Orleans — has slowly evolved into one of Pro Sports' most competitive owners; since taking over control of the two teams following the untimely passing of her late, great husband Tom Benson, who died at the age of 90 in March of 2018.

Since taking charge of the day-to-day operations of both franchises, "Mrs. B" has guided them both to just within the heights of unparalleled success.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

She has guided the Saints to back-to-back NFC South Division Championships; and had them only just one play away from getting to the Super Bowl a few short months ago.

And although the Pelicans struggled last year after they had made it into the 2nd Round of the NBA Playoffs in the previous season before (2017-18), that organization has seen her commit to its rebuild; which undoubtedly promises to be an exciting one since the Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery a few days ago that earned them the #1 overall pick in next month's 2019 NBA Draft, and the opportunity to select college basketball's #1 rated superstar, Duke University power forward Zion Williamson.

And her investments in the world of Professional Sports don't just end there, either.

Mrs, B also owns GMB Racing, a professional horse racing stable with strong New Orleans connections and great ambitions; and she's had several horses actively compete in major events such as the Kentucky Derby and the world-famous Breeder's Cup.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bottom line: Gayle Benson ISN'T AFRAID to put either her reputation or her money on the line; especially if it means anything that ultimately can yield positive results for the city of New Orleans, the entire state of Louisiana, and all of its great fans.

Never was that more evident after the infamous "no-call" by NFL referees, that cost the Saints an opportunity to advance to Super Bowl LIII (53) in their controversial loss in the NFC Championship Game to the Los Angeles Rams back in late January.

Mrs. Benson took the lead in seeking changes to the NFL's antiquated and woefully inadequate (and simply out-of-touch) rules regarding their instant replay system, that executives on the Leagues Competition Committee (including Saints head coach Sean Payton. who after some encouragement by Benson, openly led the charge to vote for the rule change) ultimately voted to implement beginning next season. 

"I think we got it right" said Payton not long after the change was announced, to ProFootballTalk. "I think it's more about the football element [than a personal victory]," Payton continued.

Photo courtesy of WWL TV New Orleans

"I think it's more of that 'owe it to the game' that we have responsibility, and really, I mean that", Payton added.

"This isn't going to be perfect always, and we know that. The mere shape of the ball tells you it's not going to bounce the same way. But these are fouls that the analysts are able to point and say, 'Hey, they're the most impactful fouls.' I think we got it right."

"We had the ability within the system [to fix it]," Payton said. "We know [coaches have] two challenges, and if you get them right, you have a third and you're north of two minutes and you feel like there's been a foul, you can challenge that".

"I think it fit with a system we know and a system the fans know. Obviously, there are certain calls it doesn't address, but at least we can begin to look at this as we move forward. I think everyone was excited that we arrived at a good answer."

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Whether it actually was actually a good answer or not remains to be seen; but nevertheless: Mrs. Benson (along with Payton, the Saints, Pelicans, and anything related to the city of New Orleans or its fans), will likely continue to be viewed or perceived negatively, especially by those who work within the National Media that honestly have ZERO CLUE about her demeanor personally, or how she operates her respective businesses.

There are those who firmly believe Gayle Benson is completely out of her element and is out-of-place (and "way in over her head"), as one of the very few females (she's one of four currently), to even own a Pro Sports team.

But absolutely nothing could be any further from the actual truth.

Some (like Boston-based The Ringer writer Bill Simmons) have very candidly and openly questioned her overall knowledge of Pro Sports and her credibility to run her teams; only to quickly find out that they were not only wrong in their assumption(s), but run the risk of get themselves embarrassed publicly.

Make no mistake about it: Gayle Benson will not tolerate any disrespect directed at her, the NOLA community and the surrounding region; and especially none that is directed at her businesses or employees.

Photo courtesy of Scott Threlkeld, New Orleans Advocate

Despite all of that, unfortunately, it won't stop the current narrative or perception that the New Orleans-based teams and all of their most faithfully-loyal of supporters are seen by other fan-bases across the nation as being "whiners" or cry-babies.

That's a view that very likely was started out in Los Angeles by fans of the Rams; and with the recent events that unfolded earlier in the week with the Pelicans winning the NBA Draft Lottery and the right to draft Zion Williamson (to the utter dismay of Lakers fans in that same "major market" of Los Angeles; who didn't want a "small-market" team like New Orleans to win it), it's a viewpoint that will continue being espoused by folks such as L.A.-based FOX Sports commentator Colin Cowherd, among others.

But what all of the National Media-types have missed (and are still completely missing) is how deftly and masterfully that Mrs. B has operated the teams in a successful manner, since taking over the reins of both.

Gayle Benson has slowly but surely evolved into one of the most powerful women owners in the entire world of Professional Sports, and she has earned every single bit of respect in doing so — no matter who likes it or not...

 

 

 

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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