Rice incident hits close to home for Steelers’ Gay

Steelers cornerback William Gay lost his mother, who was a victim in a murder-suicide when he was seven years old. Photo:Associated Press
Steelers cornerback William Gay lost his mother, who was a victim in a murder-suicide when he was seven years old. Photo:Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Working in a business where the slightest misstep lands a player on the front page of the newspaper and the lead story on the nightly news, Steelers cornerback William Gay quietly goes about his business of playing football working as an advocate against domestic violence.

It’s an issue that hits way too close to home for Gay, whose mother was a victim in a murder-suicide when the second of her three sons was just seven years old.

But don’t count Gay among those who are happy Ravens running back Ray Rice is suspended by the NFL for the first two games of the regular season following an incident involving domestic violence, including a Sept. 7 meeting with the Steelers.

The NFL drew harsh criticism for what many felt was too light a penalty against Rice. In addition to the two game checks he will lose, the league fined Rice $58,000.

The public outcry over Rice’s punishment caused the league to consider stiffer penalties in the future for such events.

But in Gay’s ideal world, the league wouldn’t need to concern itself with the issue at all. In Gay’s ideal world, domestic violence wouldn’t happen.

And his mother would still be alive and well.

Growing up without his mother, Gay learned the harsh realities of domestic violence. The victims aren’t just the abused, but the children of the abused as well.

Twenty-two years later, he not only finds himself a professional athlete, but an advocate for women’s shelters and anti-domestic abuse groups.

Gay’s message? Punishment is not the lone way to handle the situation.

“Let’s come up with a way to help. Taking money away from somebody, games, that’s all cool. That’s within the rules,” Gay said. “The real truth behind it is the domestic partner. By just saying we’re going to penalize you, take away money and games, is that really help for the women or domestic partner?”

With Rice’s situation grabbing headlines, the topic has come up in the Steelers locker room.

Gay hasn’t been shy at letting his feelings be known.

“All I say is, ‘Let’s look at a situation and what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong,’” said Gay, an eight-year NFL veteran. “We know that hitting women is not the answer, even if you’re provoked. That’s not an excuse. That’s what I try to talk about. We have little discussions here in the locker room, not that somebody’s done it, but what if? We talk about it. They know how I feel about it. It hits home for me. I have more concern about it. My feelings about it are higher than other people. I just try to state facts that it’s real.”

Gay can relate to his teammates about the graduations, big games and other moments of his life he had to go through without his mother.

He lets everyone know actions have consequences that can be long-lasting as they have been for he and his brothers.

“Education is key to this and letting everybody know it’s real,” Gay said. “Just because you’re a celebrity or athlete doesnt mean you’re immune to it, it can’t happen to you. We’ve seen several incidents in the NFL. We know it’s a part of our game. It’s part of our world but you don’t think about those issues if it doesn’t hit home. You don’t want to look at it. With me expressing it and speaking about it and the league addressing domestic violence awareness, it’s good to know that people are starting to see it and starting to care.”

Gay doesn’t just tackle the issue by speaking to women’s advocacy groups. He also meets with men’s groups, making them aware of the all-too-real consequences of domestic violence.

His message is the same one he would have for Rice.

“I want the whole world to know that this isn’t stopping,” Gay said. “I spoke to a men’s group who were the suspects, kids who were going in the wrong direction, degrading women. I don’t sit here and point fingers at somebody who made a mistake. Now, will he learn from it? That’s the thing that we need to take part in and help. It’s an issue. Now, we see it’s in our game. We need to see it’s a real issue and do everything we can to make it stop.”

Odds and end zones

Linebacker Sean Spence suffered a sprained PCL in the preseason loss at Philadelphia on Thursday but will not require surgery to repair the injury. … The Steelers must trim their roster from 90 to 75 players by Wednesday. NFL teams are then required to make their final cuts to 53 players by Aug. 31.