- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New Orleans Times Picayune lists Saints owner Tom Benson as the most influential person in the city’s sports world.
No doubt Benson is a huge force and the Saints are more popular now than they’ve ever been. But I’m not thoroughly convinced Benson belongs at the very top of this list. He’s not a hands-on owner like Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach and Snyder and Jones haven’t had huge success of late. But I think one of Benson’s strengths is that he surrounds himself with good people. There are some of his employees who are a little further down the list and I think you could make a case that each of them might be the most influential person in New Orleans sports.
Start with quarterback Drew Brees. He’s more than just a great football player. He’s a community leader and a symbol of the city. Brees’ arrival in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina went a long way in turning around the fortunes of the Saints and the city.
Coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis also are on the list, but I think a case can be made that they belong closer to the top. Like Brees, Payton and Loomis are major reasons why the Saints have become a model franchise.
Finally, there is Rita Benson LeBlanc. She’s the granddaughter of the owner and she’s more powerful than a lot of people realize. She’s the heir apparent to her grandfather, but she already plays a prominent role on the business side. She also has taken the lead role in the team’s community relations.