The outpouring of grief from fans and teammates since former Saints star defender Will Smith was shot to death Saturday night (April 9) is a testament to his leadership and his athletic ability. As former Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said in an eloquent message posted on Twitter Sunday, “you were our captain, our rock, and anchor during our run, and I appreciate all the little things you did to help us succeed.”
No. 91 will always be remembered for his skill and focus on the football field, especially during the Saints’ Super Bowl season. No fan could forget the kiss he planted on his biceps after a sack or seeing him run the length of the field on Tracy Porter’s pick six in Miami.
As important as those moments are, Mr. Smith gave our community much more than that. Unlike many players, he stayed in New Orleans after his Saints career ended. His wife Racquel is a Louisiana native, and the two of them made themselves an integral part of this community.
After news that both of them had been shot during what police said was an auto accident that turned violent, several groups they have helped posted tributes.
Kingsley House’s Facebook message said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Mrs. Smith and her family after this horrible tragedy and senseless crime. The Smith family has done so much good for this community including our Kingsley House participants. #ripwillsmith. We and the entire Nola community will miss you.”
Bridge House and Grace House, which run alcohol and drug addiction programs, said: “Will and Racquel have been such great supporters of our Celebrity Waiters event and of Bridge House/Grace House. We are deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with Racquel and their family.”
A later post said: “Still heartbroken over the loss of such a great man #prayersforsmithfamily #Saints91 #RIPWillSmith #whodatnation” The post included photos of Will Smith hugging a fan and posing with Jonathan Vilma and Lance Moore at an event for the nonprofits. Another photo shows a sign with the name of the Smiths’ foundation, Where There’s a Will There’s a Way.
Son of a Saint, which mentors boys who’ve lost their fathers to violence, posted a photo on Twitter of Will Smith with one of the young men and Bivian “Sonny” Lee, who founded the program. The message was: “Rest in Peace Will. Speechless”
On the team website, the Saints said those and other charitable causes were just as big a winner from his generosity as the team and fans were from his game day accomplishments.
The Where There’s a Will There’s a Way foundation mentors and provides educational support to children in need here and in his hometown of Utica, New York.
Every year since 2012, the Smiths hosted a Christmas event for families chosen by Kingsley House, according to the Saints. The event was often held at the team practice facility. Sixty families got a holiday meal, Christmas gifts from Santa Claus and a behind-the-scenes tour of the practice facilities.
Since 2011, Will and Racquel Smith have been sponsoring the annual celebrity waiter event to benefit Bridge House and Grace House. In addition to financial backing, Mr. Smith persuaded his teammates to serve as celebrity waiters for the event. He continued that even after his playing career ended in 2013, the Saints said.
That shows the depth of respect and affection his teammates had for him.
“Will Smith you will be missed and you made the world a much better place. I am lucky for having the opportunity to have you in my life,” Scott Shanle wrote Sunday.
He could have been speaking for all of us. How lucky we were — not only to see him play on Sundays, but for his generosity off the field.