Each year, the United States designates a whole month (April) as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The nation’s football programs have an unfortunate reputation for bringing the issue to our collective attention more frequently than that.
Some men associated with the sport consider it vital to create an attitude adjustment for the sport in this area. One of them came to North Texas last month as part of his commitment to do so.
James Smith-Williams plays for the NFL’s Washington Commanders now, but his commitment to ending sexual and domestic violence began when he heard a rape survivor speak to his college program at North Carolina State. Brenda Tracy, the woman who spoke that day in Raleigh lives daily with the post-traumatic stress that sexual assault victims endure. Unlike most, however, she’s become a crusader to ensure what happened to her happens to fewer women in the future. Her attack came at the hands of football players. She now hopes to not only convince those who participate in the sport to both refrain from and prevent such tragedies, she’d like to use its mammoth reach to spread the word to men all over that they have a key role to play in improving the situation.
When Smith-Williams heard her tell his team that men needed to ask themselves if they were solving the problem or exacerbating it, he took it to heart. He did charitable outreach to local facilities for survivors of domestic violence. And he eventually became an ambassador for Tracy’s nonprofit called Set The Expectation.
Smith-Williams entered college as a defensive back, but grew to the point where he ended his Wolfpack career playing along the defensive line. The team then known as the Washington Football Team didn’t draft him until the seventh round, and soon after that endured a franchise crisis that affected every member of the organization, even if they didn’t know it – or were a late-round rookie who hadn’t even made the active roster yet. In the video interview that serves as the centerpiece of this post, Smith-Williams explains how his conscience drove him to deal with that situation.
The NFL won’t announce its 2022 schedule for several more weeks, but he came in town this spring to do a video and photo shoot that Brenda had hired me to help with. It was at that Dallas studio that Smith-Williams allowed me to interview him for this piece.
He expresses his considerable passion for the cause in an almost understated way. That’s part of his personality, but I also think it’s because he simply believes, as a man, that helping remedy the problems others of his gender have caused is the right thing to do. And so he is doing it.