Will Smith: Slain Football Player’s Widow Accepts His Posthumous Degree

Will Smith’s widow accepted his posthumous degree from the University of Miami on Thursday. The former New Orleans Saints defensive end was killed on April 9 in New Orleans. His wife, Raquel, was shot in the legs. She attended the Miami graduation ceremony in a wheelchair.

According to CNN, the program Will Smith took part in was the Executive MBA for Artists and Athletes. The University of Miami’s School of Business Administration’s website says the 18-month course teaches “accomplished individuals with strong personal brands how to leverage their current career achievements into business success.”

Raquel Smith was pushed across the stage in her wheelchair. The crowd applauded, said NBC Sports

The posthumous degree was not Will Smith’s first degree. Smith graduated from Ohio State University in 2005 with a degree in criminology. Ironically, he was the leader of the defensive line on the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes football team that beat the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 National Championship game. It was the Buckeyes’ first national championship in 34 years.

The 2002 championship capped off a stellar college football career. He was named first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association in 2003.

After the 2003 season, Will Smith entered the NFL draft and was chosen in the first round by the New Orleans Saints. He played his entire 9-year NFL career in New Orleans. Smith played in 139 games. He led the Saints in sacks four different years, finishing his career with 457 tackles, 67.5 sacks and 20 forced fumbles. He helped the Saints to the Super Bowl in 2009. Smith recorded only one tackle in the Super Bowl, but had 13 sacks over the course of the season.

The city of New Orleans struggled for years to recover from the 2005 disaster Hurricane Katrina. Will Smith stayed in New Orleans after his retirement in 2012, according to The New York Times. He founded a women’s and children’s non-profit organization there.

New Orleans police pieced together the events of April 9 through testimonies and eyewitness accounts. Cardell Hayes, the 28-year-old shooter, said the Smiths hit his Hummer with their SUV, and that he called 911 while following the Smiths’ vehicle to get their license plate number. He claims he felt threatened by Smith.

Will Smith: Slain Football Player's Widow Accepts His Posthumous Degree [Photo by Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office/AP Images]Raquel Smith and others tell a different story.

According to the widow, Will Smith drove Raquel and another passenger home after a “regular night out” with friends. The car ahead of them, driven by Hayes, stopped short, though no one knows why. Raquel Smith said their Mercedes SUV never touched Hayes’s Hummer, and they decided to just drive on, according to Smith family lawyer Peter Thompson.

Thompson said, “The consensus in the car was, ‘We didn’t hit this vehicle; there’s no damage; it’s late at night,’ so out of concern for their safety and because they don’t know why this Hummer had stopped so suddenly, and seeing no damage whatsoever, they continued.”

Hayes then followed, ramming Smith’s vehicle from behind and smashing it into the car ahead of them. Will Smith and Hayes got out of their cars and confronted each other. Raquel got out, too, to calm the situation. Hayes then opened fire, shooting Raquel in the legs first, then shooting Will Smith seven times in the back and once in the left side of the chest, according to the coroner’s report.

Smith was licensed to carry a gun in Louisiana, and had one in his vehicle. But, that gun stayed there throughout the confrontation. Hayes felt threatened enough to blast away with his.45, despite Will Smith not having a weapon in hand.

Raquel Smith is expected to recover from her leg wounds. She said her husband died trying to protect her. Will Smith, she said, was “my Superman.”

[Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP Images]