On the west bank of the Mississippi River, across from New Orleans, 29-year-old Marlon Favorite hustles from a parking lot towards the local barbecue restaurant where he broadcasts his sports radio show every week. The 6-foot, 300-pound NFL journeyman slides on his headphones, and instructs the engineer to start his program a little differently than usual. Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love Today,” fills the speakers as Favorite silently taps out the melody on an imaginary piano.
For Favorite, the shooting death of Saints Super Bowl champion Will Smith last week landed hard. He was mentored by Smith as a young professional in the NFL. He also knows Smith’s alleged killer. Cardell Hayes, who shot Smith eight times on April 9, was a former teammate on a second-tier professional team in the area.
“This really hit close to home,” Favorite tells The Trace.
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Today’s guest on the radio show is Frederick Washington, the coach of the Crescent City Kings, the semi-pro football team for which Hayes played most recently. Both men struggle to reconcile the sudden, violent death of a man they knew and admired at the hands of someone else that they knew, and liked. Washington remembers Hayes as “a good father.” Favorite searches for the appropriate response. “My heart goes out to both families.”
Washington reverts to sports metaphor to make it through the interview: “There’s no winner in this situation.”
Favorite says that a song written by Louisiana State University classmate and local rapper, Dee-1, best explains how he feels. The lyrics go, “I know the killer, I know the victim / I’m so confused my head hurt / Funerals ain’t fun, loved him and him like a son / Now they both gon’ miss Christmas.” Favorite finishes the rap, “both sides of the gun.”
As of Tuesday, 35 people had been murdered inside city limits since the start of the year, nearly all of them gunshot victims. The conversation unfolding in the New Orleans restaurant is common in this smallish city with a high rate of gun violence. People often know both the shooter and the victim.
“When you’ve experienced something this long you become numb to it,” says Favorite, who says he has lost several friends to gun violence. “That’s not a good feeling.”
Back across the Mississippi River, in the Lower Garden District, is the intersection of Sophie Wright Place and Felicity Street, where Smith and Hayes’s vehicles collided, and the deadly incident began. An older man in a black and gold Saints jersey reads from a tiny, green copy of the New Testament.
A nearby fence has become a shrine to Smith, with flowers, balloons, a “Who Dat” hat, and a construction helmet with the Saints fleur-de-lis logo. Somebody spray-painted “RIP # 91,” Smith’s number, on the sidewalk.
Allen Cazabon, 32, stops by to pay his respects. A rabid Saints fan, he grew up not far from the spot where Smith died. His 7-year old daughter writes a note to the slain player’s family. “I’m sorry,” she scribbles in pencil.
“When I grew up, you have a little fight, you were best friends after,” says Cazabon. “Now, when you get in a fight with somebody, they want to kill you. For nothing.”
[Photo: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert]