Emotions are running high for NFL players and coaches following the tragic shooting death of former Saints star Will Smith Saturday night in New Orleans. Louisiana native Tyrann Mathieu and Saints head coach Sean Payton spoke out about some of the issues surrounding Smith's death.
Mathieu, the former embattled LSU star, opened up both Sunday and Monday about the limited opportunities that kids in New Orleans are given to succeed in things other than music or sports.
"And it's time for me to speak up. It's time for me to reach out and to let these kids know 'Hey, you don't have to be a football player. You don't have to be a rapper to make it out of those situations.' What you have to have is motivation and you have to have drive," Mathieu said, on a local radio show.
He went so far as to say that he didn't even feel safe going home anymore, noting he flies in and right back out again whenever he has to visit. He also talked about how kids don't get the same kind of investment that the city puts into hosting larger-than-life festivals, and added that he's planning to give back to the community.
Despite his emotional plea for the city he calls home, Mathieu acknowledged he doesn't have all the answers either, but that starting a discussion and raising awareness was at least somewhere to start. This sentiment was echoed by the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton.
Payton spoke from the heart on Monday to USA TODAY Sports about the dangers of guns and -- in a rare move by a current coach -- about his political beliefs. "I'm not an extreme liberal," Payton said. "I find myself leaning to the right on some issues. But on this issue, I can't wrap my brain around it."
It was depicted as a raw conversation, in which Payton discussed the events that led to Will Smith's death just days earlier. The head coach couldn't sleep after he got the news late Saturday night, and he later stopped by the hospital in support of Smith's wife and family.
"It's like our big little secret," Payton said, in his call with USA TODAY Sports. "They don't want to kill tourism. But right now, it's like the Wild, Wild West here.
"I don't know how he felt about guns," Payton said. "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 was going to be a coaching intern for the Saints this season.