Few athletes were more outspoken about the perilous state of New Orleans after Will Smith's murder than Arizona Cardinals All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu. As a New Orleans native and former LSU standout, Mathieu spoke at length about the city's culture of violence in a number of radio interviews and on Twitter. He even went as far as to call Smith's killer a "coward," which resulted in him receiving death threats.
"I don't think I can go back to New Orleans. I don't think that's possible," Mathieu told the New York Daily News in April.
But on Saturday, less than two months later, he hosted his first-ever youth football camp in the city.
Mathieu, 24, says his comments in the aftermath of Smith's slaying were "misunderstood." He says he'll never turn his back on his hometown.
"This was a place I grew up at, a place that means a lot to me. All my family’s here," Mathieu said, via ESPN. "The most important thing is that I lost a lot of family members here. So I spoke from an emotional place, a personal place. And you never want to see anybody lose their life. So that was really the gist of my saying what I said at that time."
Roughly 400 kids attended Mathieu's camp Saturday, where he was joined by his former LSU coach Les Miles and the school's current star running back, Leonard Fournette, who went to the same high school as Mathieu and idolized him growing up.
Mathieu's message at the clinic was to be aware of the options you have in life and never be afraid to chase your dreams.
He's in an unique position to deliver on that mantra, considering the adversity he's faced in his own life. Mathieu's biological father is in prison for murder and Mathieu was kicked off the LSU football team for failing drug tests.
"It’s important for these kids to see somebody who made it out of the same situation, the same environment," Mathieu said. "Hopefully I can bring some encouragement, some inspiration," Mathieu said, via Cardinals.com.
One man can't fix New Orleans' problems, obviously, but Mathieu's decision to host his own youth football camp shows his words aren't hollow. They're sincere.