Beyond the Scoreboard: Saints Play Ball with Catholic Church


The Saints deserve to be put under the microscope for their behavior. (Courtesy of Flickr)

New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson made her first public statement Monday evening to address her relationship with New Orleans’ Roman Catholic Church Archdiocese, currently in the midst of a sexual abuse lawsuit. Benson shared her deepest sympathies with the victims, while adding she will “remain repulsed by the actions of past clergy in this abuse scandal.”

However, what I found most intriguing about Benson’s statement is how she did not apologize for the Saints involvement with the Archdiocese.

In the lengthy statement, Benson explained, “We are proud of the role we played and yes, in hindsight, we would help again to assist the Archdiocese in its ability to publish the list with the hope of taking this step to heal the community. In addition, we already turned over every email to the court and plaintiff attorneys.”

For context, Benson and Saints team executives are being implicated with assisting the Archdiocese in its public relations response to this recent sexual abuse crisis. In particular, the Saints are under suspicion of helping shape the list of credibly accused clergy members, which the aforementioned attorneys allege has been undercounted. Initially, the New Orleans Archdiocese’s list consisted of 57 credibly accused clergy members. That list would increase by six, and according to the Associated Press, analysis suggests the list may have underestimated the actual number of those accused by “at least 20.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys’ allegations do not stop there. They also claim Saints team executives supported the Archdiocese’s “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes” to ensure the public stays unaware of any criminal behavior.

Furthermore, the AP reports attorneys have concluded there are hundreds of confidential emails revealing the Saints involvement was more than just minimal.

An email from late 2018 reportedly refers to Saints Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel. Bensel was apparently joining in on a discussion concerning “removing priests from the pedophile list” alongside unnamed third parties.

In all of their public statements, the Saints have continually stated that their objective was to offer input on working with the media. As for Bensel, his advice on the matter was intended to be “direct, open and fully transparent,” according to the franchise. A court hearing is set later this month to determine if these specific emails will be made open to the public.

Now, whether the Saints ultimately get punished by the National Football League (NFL) or in a court of law is inconsequential. What should trouble everyone, including and especially Saint fans, is the lack of remorse displayed in Benson’s statement. She did not even express any regret for coming to the Archdioceses’ aid in the first place.

Her public relations team had to have known that associating themselves with the church amid a sexual abuse crisis would only garner negative attention among the public eye.

But, as Benson put it, her and late husband Tom Benson have “supported the Catholic Church and this Archdiocese both financially and spiritually for decades,” as though this is justification for the team’s actions.

While Benson vehemently proclaimed her financial contributions have never gone to helping the Catholic Church pay settlements, how does she really know that to be factual?

Unless the Catholic Church can provide proof of where Benson’s money has gone to benefit the Archdiocese, one can only speculate as to what was done with Benson’s generous donations throughout the decades.

Consider if this situation occurred during the widespread sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s, when more than 500 victims filed abuse claims against the Boston Catholic clergy.

Now, imagine if the Boston Celtics or the New England Patriots, two of the most popular and prestigious franchises, had gotten involved with advising public relations damage control. There would have undoubtedly been huge media coverage surrounding either franchise for its potential involvement. One could argue that the number of victims in Boston compared to those in New Orleans would have made for more media attention. While there is validity to that notion, my follow-up question must be: why does it matter how many victims are affected in discerning what warrants extensive coverage on an issue so serious?

In many football-centric cities and smaller towns, football and religion complement each other perfectly. Some make it a ritual to attend mass in the morning and watch games all afternoon. Unfortunately, even the best combinations can result into disappointing outcomes.