A coach in the National Football League usually attempts to remain removed from the events of the world, apolitical and narrowly focused on the games ahead of him and the team he guides. But after one of his former players was brutally gunned down, Head Coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints took a stand and spoke out against gun violence and the futility of the “madness” that grips his city.
Former New Orleans Saints star defensive end Will Smith (father of two, Super Bowl XLIV champion, Pro Bowler, 1st team-All-American out of Ohio State) was involved in a traffic collision on the night of April 9th. The exchange that followed led to opposing driver Cardell Hayes to pull out his .45 caliber handgun, fatally shooting Smith and injuring his wife Racquel. The shooting happened just eight blocks away from Payton’s residence, and the coach – who had just arranged for Smith to join his staff as a coaching intern – has taken the loss to heart.
Addressing USA Today, Payton said that “two hundred years from now, they’re going to look back and say, ‘What was that madness about? The idea that we need them to fend off intruders … people are more apt to draw them (in other situations). That’s some silly stuff we’re hanging onto. I hate guns. … I’ve heard people argue that everybody needs a gun. That’s madness. I know there are many kids who grow up in a hunting environment. I get that. But there are places, like England, where even the cops don’t have guns. We could go online and get 10 of them, and have them shipped to our house tomorrow. I don’t believe that was the intention when they allowed for the right for citizens to bear arms. If this opinion in Louisiana is super unpopular, so be it.”
He also addressed the epidemic of gun violence which has plagued the beautiful city of New Orleans. Smith’s death was the 31st shooting so far this year. Last year, the city posted 164 murders. New Orleans is “broken,” said Payton. “It’s like our big little secret.They don’t want to kill tourism. But right now, it’s like the Wild, Wild West here.”
His comments echo sentiments shared by star full safety Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals, who is originally from New Orleans. Mathieu placed his blame solidly on the unspoken but implicit negligence of the Bobby Jindal administration for abandoning yet another generation of inner-city children, and highlighted an oft-overlooked connection between the lack of opportunity and the rise of violence:
“New Orleans is a great place, a place of celebration. But on the other hand, there’s a reality to it, there’s violence, there’s misguided youth. There’s no structure, there’s no programs, there’s nothing for these kids to do after school but to hang on the corner with gangbangers and drug dealers and those are the people they begin to look up to.”
Gun violence in America isn’t going anywhere, but the comments of Payton and Mathieu speak to the perpetual marginalization of America’s inner cities and how the mass proliferation of firearms continues to kill thousands of innocent people every year – the two are related, and we can’t solve one without the other.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.