A year ago I wrote the following:
One of the players Steeler Nation has loved to hate is cornerback William Gay. The collective lack of enthusiasm for his re-signing this spring was deafening. Whether Gay manages to earn a roster spot this season or not, though, he has earned respect for his spirit of community service.
Gay visited the Pittsburgh Women's Center and Shelter on Thanksgiving during the 2010 season, and was so moved by the experience that he agreed to make a PSA video encouraging women suffering domestic violence to get help. He also opened up about his own experience of violence in childhood-when he was eight years old his stepfather murdered his mother, then killed himself. Gay spent a lot of time at the Boys and Girls Club of Tallahassee, and they have just honored him by dedicating a room to him. But it wasn't just to acknowledge the fact that he "made it." For the past three years Gay has hosted a free football camp at his old high school. The only thing the participants have to provide is a signed waiver form. Gay pays for the camp out of his own pocket. He is determined to make his hometown a better place.
(There was a piece of misinformation in this quote—in fact Gay was seven years old when his mother was killed.)
Knowing his background, I was very keen to hear the interview with Gay conducted in the Southside facility locker room yesterday when it was aired on 93.7 The Fan. What I heard raised my opinion of Gay even higher, if this is possible. A good chunk of the interview can be heard here. (Please note, this took place after the video was released but before the news about the Ravens cutting Ray Rice and the NFL's lifetime suspension came out.)
William Gay: "First and foremost, I'm totally against domestic violence. My mom passed away from domestic violence. That was wrong of him. But at the end of the day, we don't need to run away from Ray Rice. He needs help. So we've got to do everything we can to help him."
"That just lets you know that domestic violence is real. It's real in the NFL. We're not immune to it. I'm praying for him—him and his wife. They're in a tough situation, and I just hope he comes out great and becomes better."
Interviewer: "Do you think this means maybe a stiffer punishment for him, more than the two games he's getting?"
WG: "No, help in LIFE. It's bigger. Like I said, my mom passed away. We're not talking about a game. She lost a life."
Interviewer: "Are you angry?"
WG: "Not angry. We just need to know that it's real, it can't happen, and we need to come together and help Ray Rice, or anyone that's in this situation."
Interviewer: "Do you think the NFL's punishment fit the crime?"
WG: "We're talking about a life. I don't care about a sport...I'm not concerned about the sport, I'm concerned about what happened in real life."
Interviewer: "Do you think further punishment should be done to him, either from the NFL or the authorities?"
WG: "We need to do everything we can to help Ray Rice. We don't need to run away from Ray Rice and say he's evil. It's an issue, we need to deal with it, we need to help Ray Rice and his fiancee."
Interviewer: "How old were you when your mother died?"
WG: "I was seven."
Interviewer: "How did this affect you at the time?"
WG: "It hurt. When I came into the league, not too many people knew about it. But by me talking about it, me getting involved with different women's groups connected with domestic violence, it helped me grow as a person. It can help others just like it helped me."
Interviewer: "So do you think they should find treatment for Ray? What would you suggest?"
WG: "I'm going to reach out to him, because I love trying to prevent domestic violence. I'm going to reach out in any type of way and just talk, let him know my end—how it hurt me, how it changed my life."
Interviewer: "Are you involved in some charities along that line?"
WG: "Yeah - the Women's Shelter here in Pittsburgh."
One thing which struck me throughout the interview was how Gay stayed on point. The interviewers (various members of the local press were asking the questions) kept trying to bring this back to the punishment, and Gay refused to be diverted from the main point. And although it doesn't appear in the segment you can hear on their website, one of his remarks was something to the effect that he wished someone had gotten help to his stepfather.
One of the press standing there reported that there were tears in his eyes as he talked about this. Obviously the pain has never left him. How could it? But Gay had a choice. He could be angry and bitter, or he could try to make something positive come out of such horror. The latter is definitely the harder road, but it has led to great things.
I devoutly hope he is able to reach Rice and help him and his wife. I couldn't care less about Ray Rice the running back. But I certainly hope that Ray Rice the man can break the cycle before their little daughter grows up to see the pattern of domestic violence and abuse perpetuated. And if Gay can help make that happen, I suspect it will mean more to him than even great plays like the ones he made last Sunday. And that's as it should be.