Sean Payton had enjoyed a pleasant evening at a charity fundraiser in New Orleans last Saturday night.
The Saints coach came home around midnight, and yet five hours later, found himself in hospital speaking to shattered people mourning the shocking loss of a loved one.
A call in the small hours confirmed Will Smith, Super Bowl winning star and soon to become Saints coach, had been shot dead following a road rage altercation.
He was blasted at close range eight times in the back. Smith’s wife Racquel, who was sat alongside him, received two bullets to the leg. A total of 10 shots. One death. The reason? One argument with little importance.
Smith, who possessed a loaded firearm in his car, was shot by Cardell Hayes, a former high school player, after their respective vehicles crashed into each other.
With feelings still running high, attorneys are already voraciously debating who the aggressor was. Prosecutors maintain that an ‘enraged’ Hayes aggressively pursued Smith and smashed into his vehicle from behind.
Witnesses claimed the argument had cooled before crazed Hayes opened fire. Yet, the callous murder was heartbreaking in its pure brutality.
“The killer showed no remorse whatsoever,” attorney Peter Thomson said before revealing how Hayes lurched over the bloody body which lay before him as Smith’s wife crawled away. The case, however, is far from being closed.
In 2011, Smith copped a domestic abuse charge which could help a self defence claim from Hayes.
A year earlier, he allegedly grabbed his wife and pulled her down the street leading to an indictment on misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse battery and public intoxication.
Nevertheless, such a tragic loss was completely needless and, if it ever needed it, has kept the never-ending debate about gun control in the United States in the forefront of everyone’s minds.
That the latest sickening statistic crossed paths with the world of sport, at least ensured those who spoke of the event’s horrors would be heard.
Payton is loved in New Orleans , a beautiful city which is still struggling to come to terms with the nightmares unleashed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
For every beautiful area dripping with culture and fantastic music, there are violent, dangerous ghettos where crime remains the only currency. Payton has seen it all before his very eyes – and passionately spoke out.
It takes huge heart and courage to rile against such a broken system in the city where you are revered and in a region where gun ownership is the norm. Payton, however, was so pained by Smith’s murder, it was simply the only course of action.
There was no political agenda behind his disgust and dismay. Just a broken heart. After returning from hospital, he went online and immediately researched the murder weapon. A gun designed in World War I – and something he could have purchased right there and then.
“I hate guns, “ Payton said. “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 on to.
“I’m not an extreme liberal. I find myself leaning to the right on some issues. But on this issue, I can’t wrap my brain around it.
“I’ve heard people argue that everybody needs a gun. That’s madness. In England, even the cops don’t have guns. 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.
“I know he loved this city. And I know he was going to be a heck of a coach. He had such a presence about him. Not only would he have made the transition to be a great defensive line coach, he had all the tools to become a head coach.”
Smith’s senseless murder is another stomach-churning low in a fight which will never be won. Yet maybe, just maybe, if more speak out like Payton, informed debate could inspire minds to somehow attempt to make a change.
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