NFL coaches are conditioned to avoid controversy, seldom saying anything off script even within their small world of ball games.
But in the wake of the shooting death of former Saints defensive end Will Smith, Saints coach Sean Payton was willing to give voice to a stance about guns he knows may not be widely held in his parish.
“If this opinion in Louisiana is super unpopular, so be it,” Payton said to Jarrett Bell of USA Today. “Two hundred years from now, they’re going to look back and say, ‘What was that madness about?’
“The idea that we need them to fend off intruders, . . . people are more apt to draw them [in other situations]. That’s some silly stuff we’re hanging onto.”
The feeling is understandably raw in Payton, having just lost one of his favorite players. But his remarks clearly went beyond the pain of immediate loss.
“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. I hate guns. . . .
“It was a large caliber gun. A .45. It was designed back during World War I. And this thing just stops people. It will kill someone within four or five seconds after they are struck. You bleed out. After the first shot [that struck Smith’s torso], he took three more in his back. . . .
“We could go online and get 10 of them, and have them shipped to our house tomorrow. I don’t believe that was the intention when they allowed for the right for citizens to bear arms.”
Gun rights remain one of the most polarizing debates in our country at large. And among NFL players, handguns are common.
But as with Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s letter to his team after the bike accident that claimed the life of cornerback Tray Walker, the sheer emotion of a death which could have been avoided caused Payton to step outside his normal bubble, regardless any backlash he could face at home.