Brian Allee-Walsh

First Lady of Sports in New Orleans making her presence felt early and often

Gayle Benson, widow of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, continues to run other ventures, including GMB Racing.
Gayle Benson, widow of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, continues to run other ventures, including GMB Racing. AP Photo

The transition of Tom Benson's burgeoning sports empire in New Orleans has been seamless since his death March 15th, at which time his widow, Gayle Marie, assumed control of the NFL Saints and NBA Pelicans while continuing in her current role as head of GMB Racing Stables.

In fact, things are going swimmingly well.

Consider:

On May 24, NFL owners unanimously awarded Super Bowl LVIII in 2024 to New Orleans, as much a tribute to the Saints' late owner as it was to a city widely regarded as the best all-around venue to showcase the league's annual Big Game. And while it was a slam dunk since the Big Easy was the only city to bid on the game, Mrs. Benson made her late husband proud in her first major solo undertaking as the First Lady of Sports in New Orleans.

As a sixth seed, the Pelicans swept No. 3- seed Portland in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, marking their first postseason series win since 2008. Now come the NBA draft and the team's most compelling piece of off-season business for General Manager Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry — whether to break the bank and re-sign free agent DeMarcus "Boogie'' Cousins who tore his Achilles tendon in January to a max contract or move on without him. A healthy, motivated Cousins playing alongside All-Pro Anthony Davis is a formidable one-two punch.

The Saints have positioned themselves nicely this off-season under general manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton to contend for the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy this season, addressing pressing needs both in free agency and the draft.

Lone Sailor, racing out of GMB Stables, acquitted himself well in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The 3-year-old colt trained by Tom Amoss finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness, both well behind winner Justify. Lone Sailor is scheduled to run in the Ohio Derby on June 23rd at Thistledown but not in next week's Belmont Stakes, according to GMB spokesman Greg Bensel.

Granted, all of the aforementioned accomplishments were well in motion long before Benson's passing at the age of 90 after a lengthy bout with flu-like symptoms. Still, there have been no hiccups under Mrs. Benson, who along with first-term Mayor LaToya Cantrell have become the two of the most powerful and influential women in the state of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast Region.

Each lady is All Dat and then some.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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