There are times (many of them) when New Orleans seems like the most special place on earth; then there are other times when the city seems hopeless. Sometimes those moments occur within the same hour.
Such was the case on the evening of April 9. The city was happy that night. The weather had been beautiful, all the better to make more festive the French Quarter Festival.
Restaurants were busy; streets were full of activity; the hotels were packed with tourists who had joined the festivity. But then the evening got ugly.
We all know, as does seemingly most of the world, about the death on a city street of former Saints Defensive End Will Smith. This coming season the Saints franchise will celebrate its 50th anniversary. During that time players, if they chose, have lived and thrived peacefully here. Within that half-century of teams, there is one group that stands out as hallowed in the city’s history, and that is the 2010 Super Bowl Champions. And now one of that team was a victim of a homicide.
During the days to follow, the city was severely criticized in the national press, particularly by coaches and formers players who complained of a city that was broken.
Speaking out against guns, Head Coach Sean Payton told USA Today, “I am not an extreme liberal … I find myself leaning to the right on some issues. But in this issue, I can’t wrap my brain around it … I hate guns.”
“I know this,” Payton concluded, “our city is broken.”
We respect the coach’s comments, but the truth is no city is ever totally fixed. Urban areas carry the great weight of having to provide for an economic underclass that depends upon them for opportunities and services.
New Orleans did not invent road rage. It is a global phenomenon that has intensified as vehicles have gotten faster and life more connected to roads. Where the city does suffer in comparison to other towns is in the availability of guns, particularly in the hands of people who should not have them. But this, too, is a national issue. The same highways that cause road rage can carry weapons from town to town.
Here, though, is where Payton can help. What if football coaches would speak out more about gun restrictions? What if that became a cause? The coaches have the ear of a largely male, conservative, sports-oriented base that would be suspicious of others criticizing guns. Football coaches, many of whom are probably hunters themselves, are more revered in the male world. Players who follow their lead could become important role models. Just as the NFL has taken a public position combating breast cancer taking a stance against gun violence can save even more lives. We know that guns will never be eliminated, but maybe they can be made to be less glamorous, particularly to an element that sees them as a source of power.
We honor the life of Will Smith and mourn his loss. May we, with the help of the coaches, at least be able to do something about it.