Opinion: Sean Payton says what most athletes, coaches are afraid to say

Matt Poe

This past weekend, former Ohio State defensive lineman and former member of the New Orleans Saints Will Smith died after being shot in what appeared to be a routine fender bender.

The incident occurred in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District and the investigation is ongoing as to what motives the shooter had to end Smith’s life at just 34 years of age.

His former head coach and current head coach of the Saints, Sean Payton, sat down for an interview with USA Today in which he talked about Smith in various respects.

Payton’s pleas for an end to this type of senseless violence included him to say “I just know this: Our city is broken.” This statement came with the knowledge that New Orleans has a higher rate of murder and violence compared to other cities in the country.

It’s a bold move for any professional athlete or coach to say something like this in a time when society has become alarmingly politically correct. But Payton is doing something more than just advocating for an end to gun violence, something we all should advocate for. He’s taking a stand.   

I’ve railed on before in previous columns about how athletes and coaches of today are much different than they were of decades past. For a great many of them, their branding and image is just as important as their on-field achievements. In today’s politically correct culture, they are extremely hesitant to possibly fracture that image by speaking outlandishly about a topic or issue.

Maybe it’s the fear of losing endorsements or upsetting fans who disagree with their views. We don’t have many Muhammed Alis or Kareem Abdul-Jabbars anymore, in the sense that athletes won’t stick their neck out to defy much. Today’s athletes, supposedly, have too much at stake. I get that, to some extent. I also think that’s a cheap way of thinking about it.

With the platform today’s athletes and coaches have, more of them should feel the need to speak out and stand up to these types of injustices.

Payton is not just making this about Smith’s death. Often, society only calls for justice when someone famous or well-known is at the receiving end of the bullets. We’re all guilty of this, myself included.  

Read the full transcript of Payton’s interview: He’s not demanding insane gun laws or stating that people who own guns for recreational purposes should have them stripped; he’s asking why his friend and former colleague is dead from a senseless act. He’s giving a voice to the everyday people who are murdered by guns in New Orleans and around the country.

I know I’ve stirred the pot with many conservatives in my columns, but what Payton is asking doesn’t confine to political parties; gun violence has no limitations or boundaries. It touches all of us, in one way or another.

Regardless of the athlete, coach or issue, I hope it is something we see more of in the future. Most athletes are content with not being outspoken about their beliefs, and they’re free to do as they please.

But for those who do give a voice to whatever cause they believe in on platforms larger than you or I are capable of, I applaud them. There’s enough injustice as it is and not enough people willing to speak up. Payton had the courage to say so. Take note.  

Matt Poe is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].