New Orleans Saints Deny Catholic Church Cover Up ... In Sex Abuse Case

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10:19 AM PT -- The Saints just released a statement ... detailing Bensel's tips on how to work with the media.

"The advice was simple and never wavering. Be direct, open and fully transparent, while making sure that all law enforcement agencies were alerted," the team says.

"The New Orleans Saints, Greg Bensel and Mrs. Gayle Benson were and remain offended, disappointed and repulsed by the actions of certain past clergy. We remain steadfast in support of the victims who have suffered and pray for their continued healing."

The New Orleans Saints are adamantly DENYING helping top Catholic church officials in N.O. cover up sex abuse crimes, despite allegations to the contrary ... this according to court docs.

Here's the deal ... more than 20 men are suing the Archdiocese of New Orleans for employing George F. Brignac, a schoolteacher and deacon who allegedly sexually abused several boys.

Despite allegedly knowing about the abuse, the church continued to employ him as a lay minister until 2018.

Several alleged victims are suing the church for keeping him around while knowing he was a danger to kids.

Now, attorneys for the accusers are going after the Saints -- claiming team executives used their official Saints email accounts to help advise the church on how to deal with the crisis.

In fact, the attorneys claim there are HUNDREDS of emails showing an attempted P.R. effort from the Saints and they want a judge to release them to the public, according to the AP, which broke the story.

The attorneys are pointing the finger at the top Saints people -- including owner Gayle Benson and Senior V.P. of Communications Greg Bensel ... suggesting they aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its "pattern and practice of concealing its crimes."

What is known is that Saints owner Gayle Benson is a major backer of her local Catholic archdiocese and she’s given millions to the church ... and, she’s buds with Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Gayle inherited the team when Tom Benson died in 2018.

"Obviously, the Saints should not be in the business of assisting the Archdiocese, and the Saints’ public relations team is not in the business of managing the public relations of criminals engaged in pedophilia," the attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in the court filing. "The Saints realize that if the documents at issue are made public, this professional sports organization also will be smearing itself."

According to the AP, the Saints have strongly denied the allegations in court filings.

The Saints had no immediate comment when we reached out Friday.

Originally Published -- 8:15 AM PT

Drew Brees Fights Back Tears ... At Steve Gleason's Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony

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THERE'S NOBODY STRONGER

3:35 PM PT -- We got Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl hero Chris Long leaving the event ... and he told us he was blown away by the ceremony, calling it all "awesome."

VERY WELL-DESERVED
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Drew Brees got choked up talking about his former teammate Steve Gleason at his Congressional Gold Medal ceremony Wednesday ... and the moment was insanely emotional.

Gleason was being honored in D.C. for all of the incredible work he's done to fight ALS since his diagnosis back in 2011 ... and when Brees -- Gleason's teammate in New Orleans in 2006 -- stepped up to the mic, he delivered a powerful speech about his good friend.

Brees explained how back in 2011 before a Saints Wild Card game ... he learned of Gleason's tragic diagnosis through an e-mail -- and broke down on the team bus.

But, Drew says Steve was nothing but positive despite the tragic news ... saying he told the Saints QB he was going to live until he was 109 years old!!

"I'm betting on you [to do it], Steve," Drew said with a laugh.

You can tell ... Gleason means A TON to Brees -- 'cause Wednesday was not only Drew's 41st birthday, but his son's 11th as well. But, Brees said, "There is no place we'd rather be than right here, right now."

ADVERSITY IS OUR OPPORTUNITY

Gleason's whole ceremony inside of National Statuary Hall was awesome ... everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Chuck Schumer raved about the ex-Saints DB for all of his work fighting ALS.

FYI, Steve's been a pioneer when it comes to helping people live with the disease ... aiding in the creation of speech-generating devices and spearheading the largest coordinated and collaborative ALS research project in the world.

As for his award Wednesday, it's prestigious as hell ... only a handful of Americans have EVER earned the honor -- with Gleason being the first NFL player to do it.

Steve vowed in his speech while accepting the award to continue to fight the disease ... and he pleaded for others to help move humanity into a better place moving forward as well.

Originally Published -- 1:40 PM PT

N.O. Saints Fans Pelt Refs w/ Trash After Non-PI Call In Playoff Game

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New Orleans Saints fans clearly felt they were screwed again in the playoffs ... throwing trash at the refs at the Superdome after another pass interference call didn't go their way.

In the overtime period of the Saints' Wild Card game against the Vikings, Kirk Cousins lobbed a pass up to Kyle Rudolph, who appeared to push off before catching the game-winning TD.

No flag was thrown ... and after the refs reviewed it, they still didn't call the play a penalty -- which pissed off A TON of Saints fans.

In a video captured from the lower bowl of the stadium ... you can see people in the stands firing various items at the refs as they were running off the field into the locker room.

At one point, one of the refs had to duck out of the way of what appeared to be a flying water bottle aimed at the guy's head!!

In fact, things got so bad, the PA announcer had to get on the mic and tell fans to NOT throw objects onto the field.

Of course, Saints fans are still bitter over the way Sean Payton's squad was booted from the playoffs in the NFC Championship Game against the Rams last season ... when a crucial defensive pass interference flag wasn't thrown there.

For their part, the refs defended Sunday's non-call ... with VP of Officiating Al Riveron saying, "There is contact by both players, but none of that contact rises to the level of a foul."

Riveron added, "This is consistent with what we've done all year long, we left the ruling on the field. We let it stand."

Antonio Brown Working Out For New Orleans Saints … Not Likely to Sign w/ Team

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12:52 PM PT -- Sean Payton addressed AB's workout ... saying there's no immediate plan to add him to the team's roster before the playoffs. The coach added the visit was more about "due diligence" and noted the Saints had 6 wide receivers at their facility Friday.

Antonio Brown is in New Orleans working out for Saints officials … and the superstar wide receiver could be signed by the 1st place team.

ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the news … Brown flew into town to meet with coaches and front office staff on Friday, hoping to land a job with his 3rd NFL squad this season.

Brown's had a disastrous season … the Raiders signed him to a 3-year, $50 million contract, but released AB before he ever caught a ball after a ton of drama relating to his helmet and feet. He also had public spats with head coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock.

After he was released by Oakland, the New England signed the superstar WR … but cut him 11 days later after AB allegedly sent menacing text messages to a woman who previously accused him of sexual misconduct.

During Brown's short stint with the Pats, he was also hit with a lawsuit from a woman who claimed AB forcibly raped her in 2018.

The Pats cut bait with Brown in September … and he hasn't been part of an NFL squad since.

That could all change very soon … 'cause the Saints appears to have real interest in the superstar receiver.

Joe Horn Facing 10 Years Behind Bars ... After Pleading Guilty To NFL Health Care Fraud

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Joe Horn is facing 10 YEARS in prison after the ex-NFL star just pled guilty to scamming the NFL's retired player health care plan out of nearly $150,000.

The former New Orleans Saint was one of several ex-NFL players -- including Clinton Portis -- who was charged by federal prosecutors earlier this month with defrauding the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan.

Officials say Horn, along with 10 other ex-NFLers, sought reimbursements for things like expensive medical equipment and prescriptions that they never bought in the first place.

But, instead of fighting the case in court, 47-year-old Horn agreed to plead guilty on Thursday to one charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

According to court docs obtained by TMZ Sports, the charge carries a sentence of up to 10 YEARS behind bars ... as well as fine of up to $250,000 -- plus probation.

But, it seems Horn took the plea deal with the hopes a judge will take it easy on him at his sentencing hearing later next year.

As for the details of the plea agreement -- according to the docs, Horn admitted to submitting two false claims that totaled up to $149,775 ... and will have to pay that back.

Horn is one of the greatest Saints of all-time ... logging 7,865 receiving yards and 51 receiving TDs in his 7 years in a New Orleans uniform.

Michael Thomas Gifts Entire Saints Team New Jordans ... Holiday Hookup!!

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NICE TOUCH

Michael Thomas may be the best receiver in the game ... but he might very well be the best teammate in the NFL as well ... 'cause the superstar gifted his entire team new Jordan 11s!!

The New Orleans Saints WR revealed the dope holiday gifts for his squad on Wednesday ... and rightfully, his guys lost their minds!!

Thomas -- who has been on an absolute tear this season -- hooked his team up with the new Jordan 11 Breds that recently came out ... and it's safe to say he made the right choice.

Saints players like Tre'Quan Smith, Shy Tuttle and Wil Lutz documented the whole thing on Instagram ... and they were so excited that they were getting short on breath!!

The kicks ain't cheap ... they're currently going for around $300 a pop. But, that's okay ... Thomas signed a 5-year/$100 million extension this past offseason.

Thomas has more than 1,500 receiving yards and 8 TDs this season ... but this has gotta be one of the highlights of the year!!

Saints' Sean Payton Turns Locker Room Into Nightclub ... After Smashing Colts

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BAYOU BLOW OUT

DUBBBB CLUBBBB!!!!!

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton turned his team's locker room into a nightclub after beating the hell out of the Colts on Monday night ... and the guys LOVED IT!!!

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (per usual) and linebacker Craig Robertson were front and center on the dance the floor ... cutting a rug like they just won the Super Bowl.

Other squad mates eventually joined in on the party too ... with guys going crazy to flashing lights and loud music!!!

Seriously, it was pretty awesome.

Of course, the Saints had a lot of reasons to celebrate ... they destroyed Indianapolis, 34-7 -- while Drew Brees passed Peyton Manning on the all-time touchdown passes list.

The Saints still have some work to do to lock up a high postseason seed ... they need a few things to break their way in order to get a first-round bye.

But, something tells us if it all goes the right way for New Orleans -- they'll know how to celebrate!!

Jahlil Okafor Loves Having SIX Duke Guys On Pelicans ... 'It's a Brotherhood'

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READY FOR ZION
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Did you know ... there are SIX former Duke Blue Devils with the New Orleans Pelicans -- 5 players and the General Manager -- and Jahlil Okafor LOVES it!

"It's a brotherhood," Okafor tells TMZ Sports ... "We're all connected no matter when he played at Duke."

Of course besides Okafor (who played with Duke for 1 season in '15) ... you've got Zion Williamson, JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram, Frank Jackson and GM Trajan Langdon, who played at Duke from '94 to '99.

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"We all have each other's back and it's amazing that we're all together on the Pelicans," Okafor told us Sunday outside Staples Center.

Okafor praised all of his Duke teammates -- and even gave us an update on Zion, who's missed every game this season with a knee injury.

"He looks good," Okafor said ... "He's in high spirits, he's doing all the right things to get himself back on the court."

Zion is expected to return to the Pels in December -- and Okafor says the team can't wait to finally get the #1 overall NBA Draft pick back.

The Pels are currently 6-11 and lost to the Clippers on Sunday -- but everyone's expecting big things from Zion who could shake things up as soon as he gets on the court.

Dez Bryant Teases NFL Return 'I’m Going To Reach Out To Teams, See What Happens'

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NFL teams in need of a receiver may have a former All-Pro hitting them up VERY soon ... 'cause Dez Bryant says he's feeling good and ready to get back on the field!!!

Of course, Dez unfortunately tore his Achilles just 2 days after signing with the New Orleans Saints in 2018 ... and hasn't been on a team since.

Bryant recently spoke out about his depression and anxiety on Twitter back in July, saying he had "no interest in playing football right now" ... but made it clear he wasn't retiring.

Now, the 3-time Pro Bowler is ready to hit the gridiron and help out a team in need ... tweeting "I’m not trying to go nowhere and be a starter on a team I want to contribute because I know I will be able too."

"I’m feeling good... in two weeks I’m going to reach out to teams and see what happens.... let’s go X."

Dez is 31 and has stayed in insane shape since recovering from his injury ... so don't be surprised if someone gives him a shot.

Pope Francis God Bless Our New #Saints ... Wait, Who Dat???

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2:45 PM PT -- The Saints would like to give thanks where thanks is due -- they just gave Pope Francis a plug for sending them good vibes and prayers ahead of the game.

The official Saints Twitter account tweeted after the game -- which they won 13-6, BTW -- with a cheeky shout out, saying ... "Couldn't lose after this. #Blessed and highly favored."

The Catholic Church has blessed the New Orleans Saints ... or so it would seem by what the pontiff himself wrote hours before their game this weekend.

Pope Francis tweeted out a strange message in the wee hours of Sunday, which appeared to be a vote of confidence for Teddy Bridgewater and co. as they were set to face the Jaguars in Jacksonville. It was actually an honest mistake ... but a hilarious one nonetheless.

The big hatted one wrote, "Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new #Saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession."

P.J. Williams Girlfriend Used Rams-Saints Call ... To Try To Get DB Out Of DUI Arrest

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FOOTAGE FROM THE ARREST
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P.J. Williams' GF tried like hell to get the NFL player out of a DUI arrest last January ... asking a cop if he'd have mercy on P.J. because of the missed PI call in the Saints-Rams NFC Championship Game!!!

It's all in new police video obtained by TMZ Sports ... which shows a New Orleans cop stopping Williams after he pulled the guy over for doing 80 MPH in a 50 just days after New Orleans' loss to L.A.

The cop tells P.J. he was driving recklessly ... and after he says he smells a strong booze odor from the car -- he decides to conduct a sobriety test on the 26-year-old.

In the video, you can see P.J. bombs it ... so the officer slaps the cuffs on him and tells him, "You've had too much to drink tonight, Mr. Williams."

That's when the officer turns to P.J.'s girlfriend to see if she can drive his car home ... when all of a sudden she tries to help Williams get out of the arrest.

The conversation is pretty funny ... she tells the officer, "Is there any way that you can -- he's a Saints player! Don't you feel bad?! Like, you saw that game didn't you?!"

Of course, the officer wasn't having any of it ... saying to the woman, "That doesn't concern me."

Master P Saints Need to Sign Colin Kaepernick ... After Drew Brees Injury

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WE NEED KAEP
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Master P says there's one guy who can save the Saints from failing without Drew Brees ... and that guy is COLIN KAEPERNICK.

New Orleans is in need of some QB help after the 12-time Pro Bowler went down with a thumb injury this past week ... leaving Teddy Bridgewater to take the reigns under center for at least several weeks.

TMZ Sports spoke with the NOLA legend about the state of his team on Tuesday ... and while he insists they'll "be back," he knows a guy who can help out big time.

"Kap, we need you." Percy tells us out in NYC. "I'm going home to let him know that right now. We need Kap!!"

Of course, the controversial QB's name has been thrown around with many starting QBs going down in the first 2 weeks of the season -- from Brees to Ben Roethlisberger to Sam Darnold.

We know Kap's ready ... he's been training like a maniac and has been posting workout vids proving he's still got it.

So ... hit the dude up??

Reggie Bush Defends Drew Brees He's No Homophobe!!!

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THE DREW I KNOW
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Reggie Bush says there's no way anyone who actually knows Drew Brees could call him homophobic -- and the ex-NFL All-Pro is doubling down on his support for his former QB.

Brees has been under heat all week after it was discovered he made a video for Focus On The Family -- an organization condemned by gay rights groups as VERY anti-LGBTQ.

Drew has since addressed the controversy, posting a video saying he had no idea about the group's anti-LGBT politics -- and explained that a key part of his Christian faith is to love EVERYONE.

DREWS STATEMENT

Bush -- who won a Super Bowl with Brees on the Saints -- defended Brees on Twitter, and when we saw him at LAX, he made it clear he'll ALWAYS have Drew's back.

"Anybody who doubts Drew, don't know him. Period."

Reggie went on to say he feels the entire issue was "blown out of proportion" -- and wasn't really a big deal to begin with.

Saints take on the Texans Sunday, we'll see if the controversy affects Brees.

New Orleans Saints Not A Playoff Team Without Thomas ... Says Lance Moore

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WELL DESERVED
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Drew Brees would NOT have made the playoffs this season if the Saints hadn't cut a deal with Michael Thomas to end his holdout ... so says ex-New Orleans great Lance Moore.

"Without Mike," Moore tells TMZ Sports ... "I don't know if we're even talking about the Saints as a playoff team, to be honest with you."

Thomas had been in a contract feud with New Orleans the last few months, and even held out of training camp practices in July to prove he was serious about getting a new deal.

But, the Saints finally offered up a 5-year, $100 MILLION deal ... and Moore says it's a good thing Thomas signed it, because he doesn't think New Orleans' offense is all that good without the star wideout.

"Not to slight any of the other receivers on that roster, but there is nobody. Even putting all those guys together, they cannot make up for the loss of a Michael Thomas."

Moore is clearly super high on Thomas, but he says the praise is warranted because the guy has an unprecedented 321 catches in his first 3 years in the league!!!

By the way, Moore says there's ZERO chance Thomas regresses now that he's got a fat, new contract, telling us, "He's a guy that is very, very tireless in preparation. He's fanatical about football."

As for where Moore sees the Saints ending up now that all the contract drama is behind them ... he tells us he thinks New Orleans is Super Bowl bound!!!

Master P Money Advice to Michael Thomas ... Don't Be Like Adrian Peterson!!!

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MAKE MONEY MOVES
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Master P says he's thrilled his pal, Michael Thomas, signed a $100 MIL contract with the Saints -- but he's warning the WR to be SMART with his cash so he doesn't end up like Adrian Peterson.

Of course, Master P is like the King of New Orleans -- he knows everyone down there including Michael and his dad, "Big Mike."

The No Limit boss says Michael's dad played a huge role in helping the 26-year-old land that fat 5-year, $100 million deal ... telling TMZ Sports, "Fathers and sons are winning!"

Master P famously made a FORTUNE during his days as a hip-hop mogul -- so he's offering up some tips for Thomas so he can STAY RICH after his NFL career is over.

"Invest in stuff that you believe in. Don't let these financial advisers steal your money like it's been happening [to guys like] Kevin Garnett, Adrian Peterson."

"Watch your money, write your own checks," P said ... adding, "Invest time into economics, into banking."

In other words, don't bury your head in the sand when it comes to your money -- the best person you can trust when it comes to your finances is YOURSELF!!!

As for Peterson, he's made more than $100 mil during his storied NFL career -- but he's reportedly fallen into debt and can't pay his way out of it.

Peterson's attorney says there's more to the story than what's being reported -- but acknowledges "this is yet another situation of an athlete trusting the wrong people and being taken advantage of by those he trusted."

Darren McFadden Charged With 2 Misdemeanors In Crazy Whataburger Case

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Prosecutors have finally hit Darren McFadden with charges in his wild Whataburger case ... charging the ex-NFL star with 2 misdemeanors that carry jail time if he's convicted.

McFadden was arrested back on January 21 after cops say the 31-year-old was asleep at the wheel of his 2019 GMC Yukon in the drive-thru at a Whataburger in Texas.

Officials say during the incident, McFadden resisted officers ... and it all ended up with the ex-running back's driver's side and passenger windows being smashed in.

Now, TMZ Sports has learned prosecutors have finally hit Darren with charges for the altercation -- charging him with resisting arrest and DUI with a BAC of greater than or equal to .15.

Both counts are defined as Class A misdemeanors in Texas ... which means McFadden is facing up to 2 YEARS behind bars and $8,000 in fines if he's convicted.

McFadden is due in court in October to face the charges.

Darren was a superstar at Arkansas before the Oakland Raiders drafted him with the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

He started 75 games in his 10-year NFL career ... playing 7 seasons with the Raiders and three with the Dallas Cowboys.