NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith was shot and killed in a case of road rage by a man who had rear-ended his car, police said Sunday.
Smith was beloved by fans for his role in bringing a Super Bowl championship to New Orleans in 2009, though the defensive captain also found himself at the center of the NFL's bounty probe in 2012.
Heavy Hearts w the senseless passing of our Team Capt. Will Smith. Pray for his wife's recovery and their children. pic.twitter.com/VomR0Sut6M
— Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) April 10, 2016
Smith's slaying rippled across the sports world, with figures from NBA star LeBron James to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell offering their condolences. James said on Twitter: "So sad man. Good dude he was man!"
Prayers and condolence sent out to Will Smith #RIP and his beautiful family! So sad man. Good dude he was man!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 10, 2016
RIP WILL SMITH.. #NewOrleans
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) April 10, 2016
Sad to hear the terrible news about Will Smith, he was a great person and I will forever remember the times I had with him. #RIPWillSmith
— Rob Ninkovich (@ninko50) April 10, 2016
Smith, a native of Queens, New York, played for Ohio State's 2002 national championship team and graduated in 2005 with a degree in criminology.
Ohio State athletics has "lost one of its best" — someone who led a defensive line that powered the team to the championship, the school said in a statement.
Smith was a first-round draft choice by New Orleans in 2004. He led the Saints with a career-high 13 sacks in 2009, when the club won its only Super Bowl. Smith's 67 ½ career sacks rank fourth in Saints history.
He last played in an NFL regular season game in 2012. During the 2013 preseason, a knee injury forced him onto injured reserve. He was signed in the 2014 offseason by New England but did not make the Patriots' regular season roster.
The New Orleans Saints mourn the loss of defensive end Will Smith https://t.co/3YaT8kDJwa pic.twitter.com/byOCxN4fJo
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) April 10, 2016
Smith was defensive captain for much of his career, but it was also that leadership role that landed him at the center of the NFL's bounty probe in 2012. The league concluded that Smith and fellow defensive captain Jonathan Vilma helped run a locker-room pool that paid cash bonuses for heavy and even injurious hits.
Smith was initially suspended four games but, with three other players, successfully appealed their suspensions and were never compelled to miss games, even as Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended the entire 2012 season.
A year earlier, however, Smith served a two-game suspension that stemmed from findings in 2008 that he and several other NFL players used a weight-loss product called StarCaps, which contained a diuretic banned by the league because it was known to mask steroid use. That suspension was enforced after legal challenges spanning several seasons.
Off the field, Smith took an active role in trying to improve children's lives, establishing a foundation called, Where There's A Will, There's A Way. Its stated mission is "to motivate, educate and provide opportunities for women and children."
"The Saints family is hurting and devastated as it has lost a member too young and too soon," Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement.