TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 16: Owner Tom Benson of  the New Orleans Saints, with his wife, Gayle,  watches warmups before play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers  during a week-two NFL game on September 16, 2007 in Tampa, Florida.  The Bucs won 31 - 14.(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Former assistant alleges racist comments by Saints owner Tom Benson’s wife

Saints owner Tom Benson’s former personal assistant endured racist comments from the billionaire’s wife, according to a lawsuit he filed Tuesday.

Rodney Henry’s suit, posted in full by The Times-Picayune reports, describes Tom Benson as defending him against racist attacks from Gayle Benson. From the suit:

After Mr. Benson was settled at the hospital, Mrs. Benson called Mr. Henry and stated “Why did you take my husband to the hospital, you black son of a bitch?” Mr. Henry then handed the phone to Mr. Benson and told him what Mrs. Benson had said. Mr. Benson told Mrs. Benson that she should not talk to Mr. Henry in such a manner and further stated “Darling, darling, he was trying to help me.”

A few days later, Mrs. Benson went into Mr. Henry’s office, pointed at him in an aggressive manner, and stated “whatever goes on in this office stays in this office because I think you are the one telling Rita.”

Within earshot of Mr. Henry, Mrs. Benson then stated to one of the Saints’ Executive Assistants “I hate that black son of a bitch and am going to get rid of him.”

When the Saints were in training camp at Greenbrier in July/August 2014, Mr. Henry stayed in the same home as Mr. and Mrs. Benson. Upon their arrival to Greenbrier, however, Mrs. Benson required that Mr. Henry stay in a small room which had no air conditioning and no towels. Further, the room where Mrs. Benson required Mr. Henry to stay only had bunk beds designed for children to sleep in.

The next morning, Mr. Benson was outraged that Mr. Henry was being required to stay in an inferior room and, in front of Mrs. Benson, told Mr. Henry to move to a full-size room on the second floor in the main hallway. Mrs. Benson then told Mr. Benson that the small room with no air conditioning “was perfect” for Mr. Henry. As soon as Mr. Benson left the room, Mrs. Benson looked at Mr. Henry and screamed “I hate you.” Mr. Henry did not respond.

These allegations against Gayle Benson are particularly concerning since she stands to inherit the Saints and New Orleans Pelicans when the 88-year-old Tom Benson dies. Benson announced in January 2015 that he would leave the teams to his wife, not his daughter Renee Benson and grandchildren Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, who he had previously announced as his successors. Those relatives claim Benson is in mental decline and under the influence, according to The Times-Picayune.

Though Henry’s allegations don’t concern Tom Benson specifically, they’re the latest in a long line of racism scandals involving professional sports owners. From Marge Schott to Donald Sterling, the prejudiced owner (or owner’s wife) trope lives on.

It’s not groundbreaking that rich, old white people (particularly from the South) can harbor these racist sentiments, but it remains scary that these are the people who run organizations full of people of color. Just think that should the stories in the suit be accurate, Gayle Benson is likely making horrible comments to black employees, the talents of Anthony Davis, Marques Colston, Mark Ingram et. al are lining her pockets.

Alex Putterman

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a D.C.-based writer who has worked for MLB.com, SI.com, the Hartford Courant, Baseball Prospectus, Land of 10, VICE Sports and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.