SBD/June 20, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Tom Benson's Contributions Examined Ahead Of Lousiana Sports HOF Induction

Benson has made a number of substantial philanthropic donations
Saints and Pelicans Owner TOM BENSON on Saturday night will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports HOF, which is a testimonial to his "unique accomplishment, not just in the state but in all of sports," according to Ted Lewis of the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. Benson’s image has gone from "that of a person who thought only of money" around the time of Hurricane Katrina to that a "much-admired, if not beloved, grandfatherly figure who brought that same home town its greatest sports moment and, at a month shy of his 87th birthday is doing all he can to make it happen again." Credit a "late-in-life epiphany that the attachment of the public to the Saints is far stronger than Benson’s own considerable financial attachment to the team he bought 29 years ago" in an effort to keep the club in New Orleans -- an action he repeated in '12 when he purchased the Pelicans. Benson’s image makeover "didn’t happen overnight, and some have never let those unhappy times go." Saints Exec VP & GM MICKEY LOOMIS said of the team's decision to return to New Orleans after the hurricane, "There was a lot of rhetoric going around ... The truth is that we always wanted to come back ... But we weren’t sure that it was the best thing for the team at the time." Benson’s standing among locals "increased even more" during the Bountygate scandal in '12. Benson did not fire then-suspended head coach SEAN PAYTON or Loomis and was "less-than-supportive of NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL, helping turn him into the enemy in the eyes of many fans." Benson’s image "has been further improved by his making a large number of substantial philanthropic donations," including a $5M gift to the Team Gleason Foundation. Benson also "has been particularly involved in Catholic charities" (Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, 6/20).
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