Gun Violence

Hey Sports Media: Please Check Your Facts (Athletes, Too!)

The last few days of coverage around the death and tragedy of Will Smith have brought up a lot of emotions from players, the city of New Orleans and the national media. Let me say that I am glad these issues around violence are getting attention, incredibly sad for the reason. But, one thing that I am discouraged by is that some of the narrative is just plain FALSE and VERY FALSE.

The lack of fact-checking and really doing deep-down research on what you're reporting or even what your interviewees are speaking is alarming and I'm not a trained journalist. I am 100% behind athletes being advocates for causes, but if you are going to use your platform to stand up for something, go on several national media outlets, then do your homework please. At least for the sake of getting the so-desperately-needed attention around social issues.

Here's what happened, and let me preface this by saying that I do not know Tyrann Mathieu personally, but he seems like a wonderful young man and at the core, I am so glad he is speaking out and mad as hell about the murder of former New Orleans Saint (and a former client of mine) Will Smith.

Tyrann went on a national radio show with Mike Hill and Kirk Morrison to talk about Will, New Orleans and his disgust over the violence in New Orleans. All totally understandable. HERE is the link to the interview if you want to catch it. It was emotional and compelling and wonderful and so much of what he was saying was true with the uptick in crime and the city at the brink of a racial and class divide with some numbers worse than pre-Katrina. 

Except he was not factually correct when he mentioned that New Orleans isn't doing anything to help the youth of the community. And my head almost exploded because he missed a huge opportunity to create awareness and support for some very important social programs going on. They are not perfect, but there is a HUGE effort going on that's getting no attention.

So here they are:

NOLA for Life - the city's 36 initiative comprehensive program to reduce crime and homicide. One of the initiatives is called Midnight Basketball where they provide basketball leagues between 8pm to 12am for young men in underprivileged areas around NOLA (I did a short film about I know all about it).

LAUREUS USA + Mercedes Benz - has a $10M investment in youth sports programs in NOLA that gets no coverage at all. They have a #SportForGood weekend every year around the NFL opening weekend

Please, if you are going to cover and advocate for social issues in sports using sports media, platforms, athlete voices and bringing subjects to the forefront of conversation, make sure you have your facts straight so you can truly create social change and have a strong call-to-action.

Mike Hill asked "what can we do?" Tyrann didn't have answer, but if he just knew about these programs, he could have so easily said: "Get out there and support these organizations. Let everyone you know about them and bring more attention to help our city and children so these tragedies don't happen."



When you know the Athlete who was Tragically Killed

"So awful about Will. Just tragic and senseless. Are you OK?" was the text that I woke up to on Sunday morning from a close friend and colleague. Immediately I knew it was about former New Orleans Saints DE, Will Smith. And my heart dropped hoping that it wasn't what I thought. But it was. Will Smith was shot and killed in his beloved city of New Orleans right next to his wife Rockie who was also shot wailing "Please God help him" as the paramedics took her away on a stretcher.

The first headlines were "multiple gunshots in a traffic dispute." In the coming days, weeks and months I am sure there will be so much said in the media about the investigation and what the New Orleans Police Department find. Seems like the gentleman who shot Will and his wife Rockie stayed at the scene and has already been charged and that will be part of the closure that is needed. 

For this very, very deep loss however, the City of New Orleans and more devastating, the family, friends and Will's beloved wife and children will never fully recover. The loss is too huge for so many reasons. Will was a pillar of strength for the city and the entire community for the past 12 years since arriving.

When you personally know the athlete who has been shot and killed, the headlines become all that more piercing when you read them. I represented Will as his publicist for his first 5 years in the NFL before leaving personal PR around 2010. And like so many of my other clients, Will was so special. More special than most though. He walked the walk and talked the talk. He called out those who did not and expected the best from everyone around him. He had the wisdom of someone three times his age and was always looking to better himself.

The sting of the loss is deep when you know the person behind what the media covers. Everything you're reading about Will and the work he and his wife Rockie have done in the New Orleans community for over a decade is really what they were about. Together, they were pillars of the New Orleans community and their own families and they welcomed that with open arms.

Will wanted that responsibility to give back and be a leading voice almost automatically when Hurricane Katrina hit and the team, city and community were looking for that calm in the storm and the "everything is going to be okay, we will come back stronger" sentiment to hold onto. Will was that rock and welcomed that role. That is why this loss is so much larger than the NFL.

The flooding of memories of stories we did together from the Diving with Sharks in Hawaii for ESPN, Cooking with Emeril Lagasse for Sports Illustrated and walking barefoot on the grounds of the Super Dome before it was open in 2007 with Fox Sports...these are everlasting. The times when the cameras were off were even better.

He was deeply philosophical and loved to be a citizen of the world traveling outside of the U.S. whenever he could. We would spend hours on the phone talking about every topic under the sun. He was passionate and committed about it all.

My best memory by far though was his wedding with Rockie in June of 2008. There must have been 400-500 people in attendance and they made sure every single person had the best time, ate well and were all up dancing the entire night. They were just natural, warm leaders of New Orleans.

My heart truly breaks for Rockie and for their children. There is nothing that can repair the damage that has been done but to honor the man that Will Smith was by continuing his great work that he lived by every single day and to try to channel his leadership in your own way.