Will Smith, a nine-year NFL veteran, first-round pick, Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, was shot and killed late Saturday night following a traffic accident in New Orleans that brought the NFL community to tears Sunday morning. He was 34 years old.
Smith's wife, Racquel, was also shot and was taken to the hospital. The couple had three children, William, Wynter and Lisa.
"Heavy Hearts with the senseless passing of our Team Capt. Will Smith," Saints head coach Sean Payton posted on Twitter Sunday. "Pray for his wife's recovery and their children."
The family also released a statement: "On behalf of the Smith family, we are thankful for the outpouring of support and prayers. We ask that you continue to respect the family's privacy as they grieve the loss of a devoted husband, father and friend."
According to New Orleans Police, Smith was driving east on Sophie Wright Place when he was struck from behind by an orange Hummer H2. Smith's vehicle then struck the car in front of theirs as well. Police say Smith and the driver of the Hummer "exchanged words," before the driver of the Hummer pulled out a gun and shot Smith multiple times.
Smith's wife was shot twice in the leg.
The driver of the Hummer, Cardell Hayes, 28, has been booked with second degree murder.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement: "This is such a tragic loss of life. Our thoughts are with Will's wife Racquel and their three children. He will be missed by many teammates and friends."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Will and his wife Racquel, but more importantly with their children, William, Wynter and Lisa who are suffering and just starting to realize and deal with an unimaginable loss," said Saints owners Tom and Gayle Benson. "We are devastated and saddened by Will's tragic and preventable death due to a senseless act that will leave a lasting scar on our community forever. Will was more than an exceptional football player he was a father, a husband, a son, a brother and teammate to so many and an inspiration to countless more. He will be greatly missed by all those he touched and impacted both on and off the football field and his legacy will continue to shine. The Saints family is hurting and devastated as it has lost a member too young and too soon."
"A senseless and tragic loss," Greg Bensel, the team's head of communications, posted on Twitter Sunday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Will Smith -- his wife Racquel -- his children William, Wynter and Lisa."
"Pray for my friend's family, pray for his teammates," former Saints running back Deuce Mcallister said. "So senseless. Rest in peace Will."
"We're praying for the Smith family," Jermon Bushrod said. "I'm hurt to hear about this news. This man had a beautiful family. His life taken away for nothing."
Smith was born on the fourth of July in 1981 to parents William and Lisa Smith. He was a standout at Proctor High School in Utica, New York and went on to Ohio State, where he was a dominant pass rusher for the Buckeyes.
He was selected No. 18 overall in a 2004 draft class that will be remembered as one of the deepest in modern NFL history, netting 15 Pro Bowl players in the first round alone. Smith had 33 1/2 sacks in his first four seasons alone, before logging a career-high 13 sacks during the team's Super Bowl run in 2009.
Smith's career cannot be measured by box scores alone, though. For as many sacks as he had, there were countless forced fumbles, key downfield blocks and deflected passes. He became the first player in franchise history to force a fumble in five straight games back in 2005.
Smith will also be known for his charitable efforts outside of the game. His foundation, Where There's a Will There's a Way, helps provide opportunities for women and children.