Strange, senseless deaths happen all the time. We shake our heads when we hear about them, we wonder about humanity for a moment, and for the most part, we move on unless we're directly affected. Once in a while, a more famous person is taken away from his friends and family and community, and we wonder more aloud. Such was the case when the world woke up Sunday morning to hear of the death of former Saints defensive lineman Will Smith in a road-rage shooting in New Orleans late Saturday night.
Smith, 34, lost his life in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans at around 11:30 Saturday night, according to Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, who confirmed the shooting to NOLA.com. Local police say that Smith and his wife Racquel were traveling in their Mercedes Benz SUV, when it was rear-ended by a man driving a Hummer H2. The force of the collision caused Smith's vehicle to hit another car. After the crash, Smith and the man with the Hummer H2, since identified and taken into custody as 30-year-old Cardell Hayes, exchanged words. Then, according to police, Hayes produced a handgun and shot Smith multiple times, and shot Racquel Smith twice in the leg. Mrs. Smith was taken to a local hospital. Hayes has been charged with second-degree murder.
The news tore through the NFL community just as much because Smith was a great person as the fact that he was a great player—which he most certainly was. The Saints selected him out of Ohio State with the 18th pick in the 2004 draft, and he responded with 7.5 sacks in his rookie season. At 6' 3" and 282 pounds, Smith was tough and versatile enough to play inside and outside in New Orleans' multiple fronts, and he amassed 67.5 quarterback takedowns in his 10-year career. His first transcendent season may have come in 2006, when he made his only Pro Bowl with 10.5 sacks, but he most likely would have rated 2009 as his most memorable campaign. That's when he amassed a career-high 13 sacks, and the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV over the Colts.
Still, it's Will Smith the person that people are mourning. In the team's remembrance of him, there are more mentions of the things he did for the community than the things he did on the field. Smith and his family worked to help at-risk children, those who were not able to fend for themselves, those who had fallen victim to addiction, and those who were working toward a brighter future.
“Will came to New Orleans 12 years ago and quickly developed both on the field as a player and off the field as a leader to become one of the cornerstones of a team that would go on to win a Super Bowl,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. “In our community he was an important contributor to numerous charitable causes to benefit those in need. Will's contributions to both our franchise and our community as a whole will always be remembered.”
The Saints' statement matched this sadness.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Will and his wife Racquel, but more importantly with their children, William, Wynter and Lisa who are suffering and just starting to realize and deal with an unimaginable loss. We are devastated and saddened by Will's tragic and preventable death due to a senseless act that will leave a lasting scar on our community forever. Will was more than an exceptional football player—he was a father, a husband, a son, a brother and teammate to so many and an inspiration to countless more. He will be greatly missed by all those he touched and impacted both on and off the football field and his legacy will continue to shine. The Saints family is hurting and devastated as it has lost a member too young and too soon.”
A locker-room leader. A force for positive change in his community. A husband and father. A family man. It's always a loss when such people are taken, in such ridiculous ways, from a world that could have used their hearts and minds for many more days. Now, as in so many other cases, we are left to ponder the effects of random violent hate, and perhaps wonder how we can do better with these painful lessons.